JACKSON COUNTY, Ore. – The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is transitioning to a three-digit number this Saturday: 988.
The hotline has operated as a ten-digit number for more than 15 years, but health officials nationally are trying to reach more people.
The lifeline has had response time issues in the past, but with over $400 million in federal funding going towards the new line, the hope is to help more people experiencing a crisis.
“988 is a message, when you hear 911, you think emergency and rescue, starting tomorrow, when you hear 988, think crisis and rescue,” Health and Human Services Secretary, Xavier Becerra, said.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is simplifying its 10-digit number to 988.
Rick Rawlins with Jackson County Mental Health said it could not have come at a better time coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Covid and the resulting impacts from societal changes that have happened have really increased people’s worry about the future, worry about their life,” Rawlins said.
$400 million in federal funding are also being dedicated to the hotline in the hopes of cutting down response times.
It was a major issue in the past with one caller out of every six hanging up before even talking to anyone at the lifeline.
The money is being used to add over 200 call centers nationwide.
“If one call center on a nationwide level is overloaded, then those calls will route to a different call center,” Rawlins said. “There’s a workforce shortage, which is really why this 988 lifeline is prime timing.”
The change to the hotline number will not only help response times, it will also get people in touch with the correct personnel to get them the help they need.
“Often, right now, people may call 911 when there is a crisis and law enforcement responds,” Rawlins said. “This needs to be moved back into the realm of mental health workers and crisis staff.”
Federal funding is going a long way to not only help at the national level, but also right here in Jackson County.
“We are partnering with some local community agencies to expand our crisis response, in response to the increased call volume we expect to occur through 988,” Rawlins said.
Rawlins mentioned Jackson County Mental Health is currently working on the details of what their expansion will look like.
He is hopeful the organization will be able to announce its plans in the very near future.