988 becoming second most important number for help

Published 12:06 am Sunday, July 24, 2022

SALISBURY — In 1968, 911 was established as the single, nationwide emergency reporting number, so anyone in the country, wherever they were, could call the same number for help.

Now, there is a second three-digit number that anyone across the country can use to call for a slightly different kind of emergency.

On July 16, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline went “live,” through the former National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The number can be used by anyone dealing with any type of emotional crisis, be it suicide ideation or substance abuse disorder or simply depression and the need for a friendly voice.

According to the Rowan County Health Department, “the new three-digit dial will route calls and texts to trained crisis counselors who can provide support for a variety of mental health, emotional distress or suicide crisis situations, as well a provide access to a variety of resources.”

Courtney Meece, community health manager for the department, said not only as a professional but as a lifelong Rowan County resident, she is very excited about the new number,

“When you are a child, one of the first numbers you have drilled in your head is 911, the number to call for help,” she said. “To have something so similar to that but for mental health crisis is beyond beneficial, and I’m thrilled it is available to people here.” She added that three numbers will be much easier for folks to remember, especially in the midst of stress, than the previous 800-number.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, (SAMHSA), an already challenging effort to address mental health issues was made worse by the pandemic and its accompanying isolation and the stress that comes with it.

According to SAMHSA, in 2020 alone, the U.S. had one death by suicide about every 11 minutes; for people aged 10-34 years, suicide is a leading cause of death; and from April 2020 to April 2021, over 100,000 people died from drug overdoses.

The 988 dialing code, designated by Congress in 2020, connects to a network of over 200 locally operated and funded crisis centers around the country.

Amy Smith of the health department said they are also launching a 988 campaign to aid in the effort to make the number something people do not have to think about, but just dial.

“This is exciting, but it is also just the tip of the iceberg,” said Meece. “So much of the difficulty dealing with mental health and substance abuse disorders comes from the stigma, but right now, there are a lot of resources being developed, and numerous influential people are coming out to help de-stigmatize substance abuse disorder, mental health issues, depression — just helping show that we all have times of stress and need a hand.”

Anyone can dial 988 from any phone or visit 988lifeline.org to chat. The National Suicide Hotline, 800-273-8255, will also remain in operation indefinitely.