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New 988 Mental Health Hotline Opens July 16

How will it work for those who dial in from King County?

By Taylor McKenzie Gerlach July 8, 2022

The ubiquitous 911 emergency line we all know is about to gain a cousin: 988. The new three-digit dialing code, which rolls out nationwide on July 16, can be used to field calls about mental health, substance use, and suicide crises. 

The shorter, more memorable alternative to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800.273.8255) came to fruition when Congress passed the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act in 2020. Local legislators in Olympia subsequently approved Washington's own House Bill 1477 in 2021 to ensure a smooth rollout and develop supplemental funding. Right now, a $0.24 per month tax on phone and internet lines partially funds the service.

In a sense, not much is changing. Existing crisis lines, like the national lifeline, will remain operational, but Michelle McDaniel at Washington’s Crisis Connections hopes the new, easy-to-remember number will serve as a reminder that there is trained, confidential help available 24/7 across the country, while also reducing stigma around seeking help in the first place.

At the very least, having to remember a 10-digit number will become a cumbersome convention of the past. “We want to make it really easy for people to navigate getting help. Right now, it's not very easy. Right now, there are a million different lines out there,” McDaniel explains.

Crisis Connections hosts several of those different lines, with specialized services for people seeking substance use support, a peer-to-peer line that connects callers to trained volunteers who have experienced mental health challenges themselves, and a Teen Link text and voice line staffed by fellow teens ready to offer support in a non-judgmental space.

The 988 line will become a centralized starting point for folks seeking assistance, and operators can connect callers to more specific services as appropriate. Someone who dials in to 988 will be routed to a local crisis center based on their area code. King County callers will be assisted by Crisis Connections, while other Washington area codes route to Frontier Behavioral Health or Volunteers of America.

According to McDaniel, the need for connection has never been greater. In the pandemic-infused years since 2019, Crisis Connections has seen around a 110 percent increase in calls. And while people are calling, texting, and chatting help lines more frequently, the acuity and complexity of the concerns they bring are also rising.

But McDaniel is quick to remind: “No issue is too big or too small." And now, help is just three digits away.

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