Three-digit 988 hotline to launch nationwide

WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — Starting Saturday, it’ll be easier for people experiencing a mental health crisis to connect with resources for help.

The three-digit hotline 9-8-8 was launched nationwide, acting as a shortcut to the current 800-number used to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

200 call centers across the country will answer the calls, including one in the District of Columbia.

“We know that will be easier to remember when people are distressed and hopefully more people will be able to access compassionate, prompt care when they need it,” said Richard Bebout, Chief of Crisis Services for DC’s Department of Behavioral Health.

DBH runs the District’s Access Help Line and will serve as the city’s affiliate for the National Lifeline.

“(This) treats behavioral health crisis’s, as a health crisis,” said Bebout. “The data shows that the lifeline is very effective in terms of people being less depressed, less anxious and less likely to take steps towards suicide.”

Calls to 9-8-8 will be routed to your local call center. If someone is not available there, the call will be routed to another call center.

“We currently answer here 91% of the calls that originate here in the district. And 9% are relayed automatically to other members of the network,” explained Bebout.

The DC center answers 6,000 calls annually. However, the number is expected rise by 30% with the new rollout.

That’s raised some concerns for mental health employees nationwide who worry there isn’t enough funding or staffing to deal with the influx. According to a survey done by RAND Corporation in June, less than half of those involved feel prepared for the rollout.

Federal leaders said they are working to address those concerns.

“The 16th is the start of the transition and not the end, there’s a lot of work to be done,” said Dr. Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Mental Health and Substance Use.

Bebout said staffing is not an issue at his call center.

It currently employs 21 crisis counsels, with an additional four more counselors coming on board soon.

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