988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline launches Saturday

The traditional 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is becoming the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline starting Saturday, July 16.

Getting help with a mental health crisis can be tough. The goal of the new, free and confidential 988 lifeline in the U.S. is to make taking that first step easy. It's as simple as pulling out a phone and dialing – or texting – those three numbers.

"There probably is less of a stigma (about mental health)," said Inga Siler while visiting Estabrook Beer Garden with her family. "At the same time, I do think when you’re having a mental health crisis it’s really hard sometimes to know when to reach out and how to reach out."

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The lifeline will get anyone in crisis in touch with people who are trained to help – and not just with suicidal thoughts.

"Prevention starts before we get to those imminent suicide situations," said Shelly Missal, Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin outreach coordinator. "We are happy to be talking with people about crises in their life before it gets to that point."

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

In Wisconsin, 988 puts people in touch with the Family Services call center in Green Bay. They can then get connections to resources such as those provided by Rogers Behavioral Health.

"The purpose of 988 is to help you get over that crisis point, and get you someone that can help you more definitively," said Jerry Halverson, chief medical officer with Rogers Behavioral Health. "This is going to open up access to a lot of people who wouldn’t have taken advantage in the past. It can be a game-changer."

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Just like 911 was a game-changer, the hope is 988 will become second nature.

"I think over time we’ll look back, in 10 years, and sort of chuckle at this idea that we never had 988," said Caroline Crehan Neumann, crisis service coordinator with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. "(It) will hopefully change history forever."

Rogers Behavioral Health

"I think it’s wonderful. I think, in the United States, we definitely need more access to mental health," Siler said.

Additionally, the Veterans Crisis Line will be accessible by dialing 988 and then pressing 1.

With 988, the Wisconsin DHS is expecting mental health crisis call volume to double over the next year. The call center in Green Bay is hiring to keep up with that.