National Suicide Prevention Lifeline hotline Photo: NNPA

On July 16, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline hotline officially became the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

The service also launched a new quick dial hotline number for California residents. Californians can now call or text 9-8-8 any time of day, seven days a week, to reach trained counselors who can help with mental health or substance abuse crises.

Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, a Los Angeles-based mental health services provider and a leader in whole-person mental health care and suicide prevention for nearly 80 years and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) were the two organizations central to implementing the new hotline.

The number “9-8-8 is now active across the United States. This new, shorter phone number will make it easier for people to remember and access mental health crisis services,” the hotline’s website reads.

Formed in 2005 and led by SAMHSA, the hotline has over 200 crisis centers that callers are routed based on their area code.

When the 9-8-8 hotline launched, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office tweeted “help is closer than you think” before tweeting the new number.

Aside from rhetoric promising a commitment to mental health, Newsom proposed $7.5 million for one-time startup costs and $6 million in ongoing funding for the 9-8-8 hotline. In this year’s state budget, $1.4 billion is proposed for mobile crisis teams to serve people with Medi-Cal health coverage.

The previous number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, (800) 273-8255, will still be available for an unspecified amount of time.

Jennifer Christian-Herman, from Blue Shield of California, believes that the change to 9-8-8 is a “powerful indication of how seriously we’re taking suicide and mental health as a country.”

Christian-Herman said that the 9-8-8 phone/text line will “help save many lives.”

One of the goals of this quick-dial hotline number is to divert people in crisis to mental health specialists as opposed to going through the 9-1-1 emergency line and potentially dealing with responders who might not be as equipped to address mental health related episodes.

California has alternative options for people suffering from a crisis but who do not feel like they are at the point of committing suicide.

One such alternative is California’s mental health “warm line.” Operated by CalHOPE and the Mental Health Association of San Francisco, the service is designed to assist people in non-emergency situations.

The peer-run warm line (Call 855-845-7415 to speak to a counselor) began in 2014 and has received over 185,000 calls since 2019, according to the Mental Health Association of San Francisco

This organization is currently looking to secure annual funding for this program through 2027.

“We provide assistance via phone and web chat on a nondiscriminatory basis to anyone in need,” the organization’s website reads. “Some concerns callers share are challenges with interpersonal relationships, anxiety, pain, depression, finances, alcohol/drug use, etc.”