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Officials hope new 988 national suicide and crisis lifeline will break down stigmas, improve access to mental health

The new nationwide number to call in a mental health crisis relies on local services to help people across the country. Lines for Life is the home of 988 in Oregon.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A new, easy to remember number, 988, is now available to connect people in a mental health crisis to help and hope. The national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline just rolled out on July 16 and has already seen an increase in calls and messages to help centers.

“This national and community message that it’s okay to need help and it’s okay to get help, and help is easily available,” said Lines for Life CEO Dwight Holton.

988 connects people in a crisis to the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which consists of more than 160 call centers throughout the U.S. Lines for Life is the home of 988 Oregon, taking most calls and texts from Oregon area codes.

“When you call 988, or any of our crisis lines, what you’ll find is a compassionate person on the other line — a trained professional, ready to listen, ready to help connect you to resources to help you find a way forward,” Holton said. “But really, above all, it’s about active and effective listening.”

RELATED: Nation launches 988, universal mental health crisis line

Lines for Life is a resource for folks going through a range of mental health struggles; maybe you’re having a hard day and don’t know how to talk to the people in your life about that anxiety or sadness. It is also there for people in crisis who are thinking about harming themselves or others.

No matter what you’re going through, Holton says callers and texters can expect the same type of care and compassion, with a big emphasis on hope.

“We think about hope as a kind of greeting card sentiment, a Hallmark card sentiment, but in my world, hope is an evidence-based strategy. It’s one specialists at Lines for Life are able to put to use every day to help people who are calling on their very worst day, very worst moments find a way forward, find hope, find connection and come back to the community,” Holton said.

Holton hopes that 988 will transform and improve crisis response nationwide.

“What’s coming next is substantially improved services for what happens after you call the call center,” Holton said.

That means building up the call center network and mobile response crisis units to take some of the burdens off 911 dispatch.

RELATED: Suicide attempts linked to medication rising among children ages 10-12, OHSU study finds

The new nationwide resource also creates an opportunity to bridge the gap for mental health care for marginalized communities, according to Holton.

“One of the real opportunities here is to reach communities that have been left behind in both mental health work but also in some of the other work we’ve done in reaching people in crisis,” he said. “There are communities of color, particularly in Oregon, where calling 911 doesn’t really feel like a great option.”

Not only does this offer quick access to help, Holton says it sends a message that it’s okay to get help.  

“The message that it sends for the nation to be adopting a national mental health crisis line — it’s a way of coming together as a community, as a state, as a nation and saying, ‘Hey, we get it. It’s okay to struggle. We all struggle from time to time,’" Holton said. "And importantly, ‘It’s okay to get help and help works.’”

RELATED: ‘Nobody talks about it’: Understanding the rise in youth suicide

If you or someone you know is struggling, compassionate, professional care is available 24-7 by calling or texting 988. You can also reach Lines for Life at 800-273-8255.

Lines for Life also has specialized call lines for military members, youth, racial equity support line, alcohol & drug helpline and for senior loneliness. Visit linesforlife.org for more information.

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