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Remember 988 when facing a mental health crisis

This guest editorial was written by the Alexandria Echo Press, a Forum Communications Co. newspaper.

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Here's some good news in the effort to help those who are struggling with their mental health.

Last week, Minnesota joined other states to roll out a 988 mental health crisis lifeline.

The change is part of a nationwide effort to transition the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to a phone number people can more easily remember and access in times of crisis. The shift also includes an online chat feature and new texting option, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

The new 988 dialing code will serve as a universal entry point, so people can reach a trained crisis counselor who can help regardless of where they live, the department said in a news release issued last week. Anyone can dial or text 988 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to reach crisis support or to use an online chat feature to connect with crisis support.

People can also dial 988 if they are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support.

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“Supporting mental health is a critical public health need, and one of the best ways we can do that is to make it as easy as possible for people to get the help they need when they need it,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said. “Our hope is that 988 can be an easier way for people experiencing mental health crises to get support quickly.”

The Lifeline 10-digit number, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), will continue to be available and will route people to the same resources. People should call 911 if they suspect drug overdose or need immediate medical help.

Suicide is a serious and growing public health concern across the United States and in Minnesota, noted the health department. The number of suicide deaths and the suicide rate in Minnesota has increased consistently for 20 years. MDH data shows:

  • From 2016 through 2020, there were more than 10,000 hospital visits for self-harm injuries (i.e., suicide attempts) in Minnesota, and those were mostly among people ages 10-24, predominantly females.
  • Each year about 75-80% of suicide deaths are among males.
  • Each year about 50% of suicide deaths are the result of a firearm injury. Suicide usually represents 70-80% of all firearm deaths.

Moving to a shorter dialing code is an important step to help reduce suicide, and it is part of a larger push to improve options for Americans facing a mental health crisis. In moments of crisis, it can be challenging to look for resources or even just remember what number to call, state health leaders said.
Through 988, the Lifeline number will be easier to remember, and more accessible through chat and text. This will create more ways and make it easier for the public to find support.

There's also help for veterans who are dealing with mental health issues. They can reach the Veterans Crisis Line by dialing 988 and pressing 1. Calls will route to the same trained Veterans Crisis Line responders. The Veterans Crisis Line will still be available by chat (VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat) and text (838255).

Those who are facing a mental health crisis that seems insurmountable should remember those three numbers — 988. There is help. There is support. You are not alone. Stepping away from the brink of losing your life can start with those three numbers.

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