New Suicide Prevention Lifeline number 988 launches July 16

NOW: New Suicide Prevention Lifeline number 988 launches July 16

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Just like we know to dial 911 in an emergency, 988 will become the new number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on Saturday, July 16.

Health experts and lawmakers say it's a big step toward expanding mental health resources at a time when people need it the most.

"I knew from the first day that I introduced this measure that when fully up and running, it would serve to save lives," said Wisconsin's Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin.

Baldwin wrote and introduced the legislation for 988 about four years ago. It was approved in 2020. "The idea of a suicide hotline or crisis hotline is not new, but they have typically had 10 digits and people don't memorize those numbers," Baldwin said.

The goal behind 988 is to give people an easy number to remember to connect with the mental health resources they need. 988 will also be accessible via text message, which Baldwin says is important today.

The time of the 988 launch comes as Wisconsin data shows an increase in suicide rates over the last 20 years.

"Mental health access and treatment has been a big concern for our community," said Jerry Halverson, chief medical officer, Rogers Behavioral Health.

Halverson says the pandemic has intensified concerns surrounding mental health.

"We've all had struggles with dealing with the uncertainty," he said.

He points out that 988 isn't just for those in crisis but can also be a resource to anyone who just needs someone to talk to. "When you need some help and you don't feel you can talk to your family, this is a great place to get started on getting help," he said. Baldwin hopes people spread the word about 988 to continue to get resources to those in need.

Baldwin says a mix of state and federal funds made this possible. Some states have expressed concerns about maintaining call volume and funding, but Baldwin says there are safeguards within individual state laws that will help keep 988 operating.

Until 988 launches on July 16, the current number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline should be used for those who need help.

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