SAN DIEGO — The nation’s first three-digit hotline number, 988, will be ready for use starting Saturday to reach the existing National Suicide Prevention Hotline, but with a much shorter and easier-to-remember number.
When someone is going through a mental health crisis or experiencing thoughts of suicide, they can call or text 988, or chat at 988lifeline.org. The number will connect them with a trained mental health professional who will listen to them and then connect them to resources if needed.
“If someone is experiencing a mental health crisis or is experiencing suicidal thoughts, instead of having to remember the number 1-800-273-TALK, now they’ll just be able to pick up their phone and either call or text the number 988,” said Felicity Vera, the San Diego area director for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Data shows suicide is the 14th leading cause of death in California and nationally, there’s an average of 130 suicides every day.
The national number is compromised of more than 200 state and local call centers funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“if someone dials 988 from a San Diego area code, they will automatically be routed to someone locally with one of the local San Diego crisis response centers, so that way if someone is calling from a San Diego number, they will get more easily connected to San Diego resources,” Vera said.
Vera adds that the number will be a “huge benefit” being able to be connect with someone who understands the scope of San Diego and the resources available.
“Nationally, suicides used to be the 10th leading cause of death in 2018, and then by 2020, we were at the 12th and that’s the decline we want to continue seeing,” Vera said.
In 2021, the lifeline nationally received 3.6 million calls, chats and texts. And with the implementation of 988, they anticipate that number will double.
The implementation of 988 has been in the works for two years, since then-President Donald Trump signed a bill to establish 988 as a national number.
“The City of San Diego endorsed State legislation to launch this service and I’m glad to see it become a reality,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria tweeted Friday afternoon.
The three-digit number comes alongside an announcement that will bring more mental health resources to the North County.
Palomar Health and Kindred Behavioral Health will work together to build and operate the new Palomar Behavioral Health Institute, which is anticipated to break ground in Escondido next year. The building will be three-stories with 120 inpatient beds in the 90,000 square-foot, $100 million facility. They will also provide outpatient services as part of Palomar Health’s plan to expand its Behavioral Health Services.
Palomar Behavioral Health Institute is expected to open in 2024 and will employ about 200 people.