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988 rolls out nationwide on Saturday

Congress passed a bill to create a three-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number in 2020, but it is up to individual states to fund and staff it.

AUGUSTA, Maine — 988 — that's the number mental health experts want you to remember to call in case of a crisis. 

The hotline will launch on Saturday and comes after Congress mandated the launch of the emergency number. Individual states must fund and staff the hotline.

Mental health experts told NEWS CENTER Maine that when a person is in crisis, the last thing they need to deal with is trying to remember the 10-digit-long National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number.

"People still call 911, and that's a very different response," said Sarah Squirrell, acting director of the Office of Behavioral Health at Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

That's why Congress passed this bill. Squirrell said that by calling 988 instead of 911, the person at the other end of the line will be prepared to help.

"With 988, you are going to get a therapeutic individual who is trained in crisis [response] and can support you in the moment," she said.

The state has allocated $450,000 for the implementation of 988.

Squirrell said there are already 25 people who answer these crisis calls through The Opportunity Alliance, and there is funding for six more.

"We can remember [and get used to 988 in] the same way 911 is indelible on all of our memories," said Greg Marley from NAMI Maine.

He has been working with DHHS on getting 988 ready for Mainers.

He added the ease of only having to remember three numbers could save someone's life.

"Someone who's in that place of 'I don't know if I want to live anymore,' is in a place where they feel all alone, and [has] a sense of hopelessness and despair," Marley said. "Anything that connects them with a warm voice that says hope is out there, help is out there."

Marley and Squirrell both said this will be a soft launch, both the state and national suicide prevention hotlines will still be there, but 988 is just another option.

It will also be available for text messaging.

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