FRIDAY, July 15, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Starting Saturday, if someone is contemplating suicide or having a mental health crisis, they can dial just three numbers — 988 — to get help.

Callers will be connected to a trained counselor at a local call center and ultimately routed to potentially lifesaving support services. The three-digit code for the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline replaces the 10-digit number for what was formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The new three-digit number is easy to remember, free, available 24/7, and confidential, Thea Gallagher, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health in New York City, told HealthDay. “If 988 becomes just as ubiquitous as 911, we are saying that mental health and physical health are on the same level, and that breaks stigma,” she said.

The new number will also accept texts, and live chat is available, May Lau, M.D., a pediatrician at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the medical director of the Adolescent and Young Adult Clinic at Children’s Medical Center Dallas, told HealthDay. Crisis counselors speak multiple languages and are culturally competent at counseling members of the LGBTQ community. There are also resources available for people who are deaf or hearing-impaired, Lau said.

The new line is not just for people who are contemplating suicide. Counselors are also skilled in discussing self-harm, addiction, domestic violence, and other mental health issues. If a caller needs immediate medical attention, 988 will collaborate with local police or hospitals to dispatch services.

“We are trying to help people deal with crises before they become life-threatening,” Anthony Wood, interim CEO and COO of the American Association for Suicidology, told HealthDay. The group has been calling for a three-digit suicide hotline for years. And while a three-digit number is a big step forward, there are still some kinks to work out, Wood said. For starters, local crisis centers will need more counselors to handle the expected surge in calls, he said.

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