New number for mental health crises officially launches

Anyone can now call or text 988 for immediate support

A person holds a cellphone
A man uses a cell phone in New Orleans, Aug. 11. People in crisis and those trying to help them will have a new three-digit number, 988, to reach the national suicide prevention network starting in July. Federal health officials on Monday are announcing more than $280 million to smooth the transition from the current 10-digit number
AP Photo | Jenny Kane 2019

The simpler hotline number and a new online chat are part of a renewed effort to reduce suicide deaths. Here in Minnesota, the suicide rate has been increasing consistently for 20 years.

While calling 988 differs from 911 and police response, police could still be sent to respond if the 988 call is deemed warranted.

Tami Lueck, Adult Services Manager at Crow Wing County Services, spoke with MPR Host Tom Crann about the rollout and how it will impact our state.

Hear the full conversation by using the audio player above or reading the transcript below. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

How do you think it'll change how people will be able to access help in a crisis situation?

I think there'll be more recognition, potentially, with this number and more awareness. It'll just be easier for people to remember.

So I think the idea [is] that if somebody is experiencing a mental health crisis, and/or a loved one who may need to support a person during a crisis, that they would just have this number readily available.

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[It’s] in an effort to reduce suicide but also to get people connected to mental health services in their time of need.

When would you call 988 and when should you call 911 when it comes to mental health crises?

If you're in a medical emergency or if you've potentially harmed yourself or someone around you has harmed themselves — I would say, definitely call 911. That's a medical emergency.

If you're unsure, I would suggest you call 911. But I do think 988 is definitely a resource for those that are feeling suicidal or having any kind of mental health-related distress.

How will it work when you dial 988? Will you get someone locally or here in Minnesota?

We have regional crisis hubs across the state. Based on your area code, you'll go to one of those regional centers.

The only thing that we've been told is that if you have a different area code, you may go to the call center that your area code is matched to so it won't necessarily be where your location is.

But your call will still be answered. If the call line for whatever reason is at capacity or busy, it's my understanding that your call will roll over to the national suicide prevention line.

Can you quantify the need for a line like this where you are in Crow Wing County or in greater Minnesota?

Our local crisis line and referral services are taking approximately 6,400 calls a year and they continue to give us the data that supports that not only is this a continued need but that need is increasing.

What other resources are being developed to address this problem in our state of rising suicide rates?

We're all continuing to work hard at further developing our continuum of care. It's been great to see legislators act this year to give funding in a number of mental health areas — and we need it.

We do need to be able to continue to build on not only these crisis services, but prevention services and services that provide support and treatment to individuals.