New 988 Hotline Sees Increase in Mental Health Calls

Call volume in Georgia is up 24% since the switch from the 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to the new 988 system on July 16.

ATLANTA — A new 24/7 mental health hotline is seeing a spike in calls in Georgia since its launch two weeks ago, according to coordinators. The new 988 number is also up 45% nationally.

People who call 988 can get resources and emergency services can send mental health professionals to help if needed.

The idea is that keeping the number to three digits is easy to remember, and the hotline helps break the stigma surrounding mental health.

Hannah Wesolowski of the National Alliance on Mental Health said 988 can also help people struggling with substance abuse.

“The system is so essential to help people who are going through a series of crises,” Wesolowski said.

Call volume in Georgia is up 24% since the switch from the 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to the new 988 system on July 16.

“Often those people are just looking for someone to talk to or the crisis of the moment can be escalated because they’re talking to licensed clinicians,” said Ashley Field of the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health.

The state’s conduct department operates the 988 hotline, also known as the Georgia Crisis and Access Line.

RELATED: No, the 988 Suicide Prevention Lifeline Can’t Send Your Exact Location to the Police

According to agency data, they received 1,763 calls in the first week before 988 went live. Compare that to the 1,426 calls they got the week before when they were still using a 10-digit phone number, and they said calls were answered quickly.

“We managed to manage our response to those calls and keep our response speed to under 20 seconds,” Fielding said.

The people who answer calls can send a mobile crisis team if necessary.

“That’s basically a van with a counselor or other mental health psychiatrist,” Fielding explained.

That helps prevent 911 call centers from being tied up with mental health calls while still serving as both a response and prevention system, proponents say.

“Many people who are in crisis get a response from law enforcement,” Wesolowski said. “We want to provide mental health care when someone is in a mental health crisis.”

Wesolowski said there are situations where people still need to call 911.

“Call 911 if someone is in physical danger, has an injury, or their life is in danger,” Wesolowski said.

They expect the new line in Georgia to receive about 500,000 calls per year.

Georgia has invested $20.5 million in the 988 system. That includes adding staff to answer phones and to the mobile crisis unit, as well as increasing the bed space for treatment.

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