New 988 life-line rolls out nationwide this weekend

988 will become available nationwide, beginning July 16, for those seeking help during a mental...
988 will become available nationwide, beginning July 16, for those seeking help during a mental health crisis.(KALB)
Published: Jul. 12, 2022 at 2:02 PM EDT
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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- When you find yourself needing immediate help, the numbers that may come to your mind are 9-1-1.

But a new three-digit number will be introduced nationwide Saturday to help you if you ever find yourself in a mental health crisis.

It comes as calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline from all three states in our region have continued to increase each year.

Mental health experts say the new three digit number, 9-8-8, could very easily save countless lives.

The 9-8-8 number will give people a faster way of getting ahold of someone to talk to in the midst of a mental health crisis.

Whether you’d rather talk to or text with someone, 9-8-8 will work either way, and you’ll be connected with a crisis counselor.

The hope is for a local crisis center to take the call.

“When you call and you’re speaking to someone from your area, it makes a big difference,” said Terrance Hamm, the 988 Director for First Choice Services in Charleston. “People understand the resources that are available to you. They have some sense of the type of community that you’ve grown up in, and can sometimes relate to some of the struggles you have.”

First Choice Services is a company that will handle calls in West Virginia.

Hamm says his company has a more than 90 percent answer rate, meaning when crises calls come in, they’re able to answer the majority of them before the calls are bounced back to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

“This service is an absolute game changer,” Hamm said. “In some of our more rural communities, mental health services are limited and people have to travel to the next county over to get help more immediately, but with this, people, if they have a telephone, if they have a tablet, if they a cellphone, they now have access to support and some help 24 hours a day.”

Hamm says this will also help 911 dispatchers, who often find themselves answering calls ranging from accidents, medical emergencies, and even mental health emergencies.

“It will offer some relief to 911 and allow our first responders to better serve our community in that capacity,” Hamm told WSAZ.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline says emergency medical services are dispatched for only 2 percent of calls to the lifeline, reducing the burden on law enforcement and emergency medical resources so they can better respond to other public safety needs.

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