Dial 988: New suicide prevention hotline launches nationwide Saturday

The hotline provides 24/7 free and confidential emotional support around the country to those in mental health distress.
The hotline provides 24/7 free and confidential emotional support around the country to those in mental health distress.
Published: Jul. 14, 2022 at 6:00 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 14, 2022 at 7:20 PM CDT
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MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) - Help is only three digits away.

Starting Saturday, the new 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline number will be ready to dial for those in need of a helping hand.

“People who are in the most challenging time of their lives have a resource that is at their fingertips and, hopefully, easily remembered for them,” said Stephanie Combey, a behavioral health clinical services manager at Carver County.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the number of suicide deaths and the suicide rate in Minnesota has been increasing for the past 20 years.

The 988 code transforms the pre-existing 10-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, although the original number will still be active.

988 is related to the 911 concept to help people during a crisis.

“When you’re in distress, it’s hard to think clearly, it’s hard to think rationally. If you’re able to only remember three numbers, that’s much easier than remembering 10,” said Dr. Patrick Bigaouette, a psychiatrist at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato.

At any time, anyone in the United States can call or text 988 and talk to trained counselors who can provide resources and guidance toward local crisis centers.

“Our team that is answering the calls would have all been trained in answering crisis calls. They’re very accustomed to talking to people who are in a mental health crisis or know somebody who they are worried about,” Combey said.

The 988 number broadens its services to address not only a suicidal crisis, but also mental health and substance use issues, which provides more accessible resources for anyone facing a mental health crisis.

“I think it will be destigmatizing for the people who are not comfortable reaching out. It’s going to engage them in services and appropriate ways where they’re not being judged,” Bigaouette said.

Although crisis centers can’t predict the new call volume, professionals anticipate an increase in calls.

Crisis teams, like the four Lifeline centers in Minnesota, have been preparing for all in-state and out-of-state calls to meet the anticipated demand.

“If a call comes into our center, and they all happen to be on a call with someone else who’s in a crisis, it’s really important that that call goes somewhere. And so the redundancy that is built in is to ensure that it does get to the next person who is available to provide,” Combey said.

“I would encourage people that if you don’t get through on your first call, keep trying and if that’s not working, there are other emergency centers that we have in the area,” Bigaouette said.

Until the new hotline becomes operative, someone in immediate crisis can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.

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