Jul 18, 2022 - News

988 is live in Massachusetts for mental health help

A smartphone with 988 on the screen.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Americans now have a three-digit number β€” 988 β€” to call to talk to crisis counselors about suicidal thoughts and other mental health crises.

What's happening: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline's new 988 hotline went live Saturday, forwarding callers to one of 200 call centers across the country, 24-7.

  • The NSPL number (1-800-273-8255) still exists, but won't be advertised as much.
  • In Massachusetts, callers will be connected to one of five nonprofit call centers, including Boston-based Samaritans.

Why it matters: The three-digit number will be far easier to remember, says Congressman Seth Moulton, who in 2019 introduced the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which ultimately ushered in this change nationwide.

  • The rollout comes at a time when demand is high for mental health treatment.
  • Hospitals statewide reported receiving 514 behavioral health patients in the week ending July 11, per the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association.

What they're saying: "Something that I think is often misunderstood is that people don't want to die. They want the pain that they're in to stop, and they want to find a way to feel better," Kathy Marchi, CEO and president of Samaritans, tells Axios. "So they're reaching out to us for help with that."

Details: Callers will be connected to trained counselors, albeit not clinicians, who can offer emotional support. If someone needs additional resources, they can connect the caller to a local emergency services program, Kacy Maitland, chief clinical officer of Samaritans, tells Axios.

  • Counselors can help deescalate situations 90% of the time if a caller is at imminent risk to themself, she says. When a person has a plan to die by suicide and the calls aren't deescalated, counselors call 911.

Plus: The calls are entirely confidential.

  • Counselors can help callers struggling not only with suicidal thoughts, but also those with emotional distress, substance use disorder and other mental health issues.

Of note: For those who are deaf or hard of hearing, the state recommends using the online chat function.

  • 988 has multilingual options. Spanish speakers, for example, can press 2 after dialing 988.
  • πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ Veterans can press 1 after dialing 988.

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