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Starting in mid-July, the U.S. will have a 911-equivalent emergency hotline. National Suicide Rescue Linewho currently operates at 800-273-8255.

The new number will air on July 16, is part of a $282 million government effort aimed at suicide prevention and crisis relief. Number 988 was appointed by Congress in 2020 will be operated through National Suicide Rescue Linewhich has been in existence since 2005.

But what is 988 and how does it all work? Here’s what you need to know.

What is 988 and what will it do?

Technically, 988 doesn’t provide a new service – the National Suicide Prevention Line has been around for decades. However, switching to an easy-to-remember number expected increase the number of appeals to people in need of help.

Currently, the National Suicide Rescue Line helps thousands of people through mental health crises every day. Department of Health and Human Services (XXS).

This number works very simply: you call, text or chat through it and connect with a mental health professional who can help. life line consists of a network of over 200 local and state crisis centers throughout the United States, which direct calls to the nearest center based on an area code.

These calls are answered by local counselors who know local mental health resources and can make referrals to local services, life line explains. “The counselor will listen, offer support, and work with the caller to develop a safety and recovery plan,” says William Zimmermann, LCSW, program manager at Rutgers University in Mental Health and New Jersey Suicide Rescue Line, National Rescue Line. . up center

Why is this needed?

Mental health experts applaud the move and highlight its importance. “The potential benefit from the 988 is huge,” says Zimmermann. “During a crisis, quick access to support and care can improve outcomes.”

Having an easy-to-remember three-digit number for mental health emergencies “changes the mind” about what to do in a mental health crisis, says Thea Gallagher, psychologist, clinical assistant professor of psychology at NYU Langone Health and co. -master Mind in View Podcast. “It sets the tone that you can have a mental health emergency, and that’s just as important as it is with a physical emergency,” she says.

It also helps remove the stigma often associated with mental health issues, she says. “It shows it’s for one and all,” Gallagher says. “If you are struggling, call us, we are here for you. That’s what it says.”

Accessibility is important, notes Kelly green, Ph.D., senior fellow at the Pennsylvania Center for Suicide Prevention. “This is for those who have suicidal thoughts or emotional stress,” she says. “If you’re worried about a friend or loved one and don’t know how best to support them, you don’t have to wait for suicidal thoughts or suffering to get serious. You can call right now.”

In particular, the three-digit number is easy to remember, and it’s important, says Arianna Galliger, LISW-S, associate director of the STAR Injury Recovery Center at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “If a person can’t remember the phone number to call, they won’t call, so they won’t be able to get the support they need,” she says. clinical psychologist John MayerPh.D., author Family Fit: find your balance in life, says the three-digit number is “a fantastic idea, because when people are in trouble, memory always suffers, and remembering rarely used numbers is impossible.”

While people are often urged to call 911 in a mental health crisis, having a 988 number directs them to someone who is actually trained in the area they need help, rather than law enforcement in general, who may not know. how to respond appropriately, says Zimmermann. “988 will provide an alternative to law enforcement as the primary intervention in a mental health crisis,” he says.

988 is expected to be huge for mental health—so big that the National Suicide Prevention Line plans to wait a year to advertise it to make sure they have the infrastructure to support all calls, Green says. But if you need mental health support, it’s good to know that three simple numbers will put you in touch to help as soon as possible.

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