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'988' Suicide Prevention Lifeline goes online

Pennsylvania will have 13 dispatch centers for all 988 related calls.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — On Saturday, the 988 Suicide Prevention Lifeline went live, taking over for the previous 10-digit number. The new number hopes to make mental health resources more accessible to people across the US.

“Dialing a three-digit number is a whole lot better than dialing a 10-digit, 1-800 number," said Chris Michaels, CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Keystone branch.

Michaels says the new number will help more Pennsylvanians struggling with mental health issues. People who call the new helpline will be patched in to one of 13 call centers and talk with trained mental health professionals.

“A lot of times you can be in a mental health crisis and that’s all you need, the person to hear you out," said Michaels.

Even with the 988 rollout, Michaels says the system is still being developed. Over the next five years, the 988 network will dispatch mobile units to respond to calls at people’s homes—allowing professionals to respond to mental health emergencies instead of police.

“If someone is in a mental health crisis and they call 911, they’ll end up in jail or the emergency room," said Michaels. "With a mobile crisis team and the telephone crisis services, a lot times the crisis can be resolved in the home where you are.”

She says the 988 number will be a godsend to many people, as suicide and mental health problems have become more pronounced during the pandemic.

“It offers an immediate help. If you’re waiting for an appointment, now you can call and talk and see a mental health professional," said Michaels.

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