WXMI — A three-digit number that’s meant to connect people in a mental health crisis to professional help goes live soon.
People in Michigan and nationwide will be able to call, text or chat the 988 suicide crisis lifeline starting Saturday, July 16.
Officials believe the new dialing code will be easier to remember in times of crisis than 10-digit number currently handled by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
“When someone is in a mental health crisis, they’re not at their best,” said Andrew Boekestein, strategic project manager at Network 180. “To remember a 10-digit number or what agency and what county you’re supposed to call might be too much. It might be the difference between life and death.”
The hotline is free and anonymous. It’s available 24/7.
“It makes a huge difference,” said Boekestein. “People wrestling with suicidal thoughts are usually quite ambivalent about it. Often times looking for some type of lifeline or something to tip the balance towards life. If a number like 988 can stay in their head, that might be enough.”
A network of 200 local crisis centers around the country will be tasked with fielding the calls.
In Michigan, all calls will be routed through the Michigan Crisis and Access Line (MiCAL), except in Kent and Macomb counties.
Network 180 will handle the cases in Kent County.
And while some communities across the country are worried about a lack of money and workers, Michigan officials say the state is prepared.
We’re expecting a pretty smooth transition because we have been doing this work,” said Boekestein. “On our answerers end, it’s going to look largely the same it’s always been. It’s really a difference for the public.”
Boekesteing and Krista Housermann, who works with MiCAL, credit the readiness to a similar state program that rolled out last year and existing partnerships.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says Michigan received over 57,000 crisis calls in 2021.
It estimates that number may jump to 90,000 during 988’s first year in operation in addition to chats and texts.
“We have seen increases with behavioral health issues and people in crisis over the last several years and especially with COVID,” said Housermann. “There’s a need to reach out to people who are in crisis and to connect them to services much more quickly than waiting until their needs are so severe that they need to call 911 or need to go to an emergency department.”
“There is no risk in calling 988,” added Boekestein. “There’s no wrong call. Don’t feel like your situation isn’t big enough, important enough, or you don’t live in the right area. Anyone is free to call if you’re concerned about yourself or a loved one.”