988 suicide hotline launches for those facing mental health, addiction crises

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Ohio (WJW) – A new emergency number is launching for anyone facing a mental health or addiction crisis.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can now be reached with just three digits: 988. Callers can get help more immediately, and experts have high hopes that the new number that will function much like 911, except it will provide compassionate lifesaving care to those with mental health-related distresses.

Tonja Myles needed help when she was suicidal.

“The first law enforcement person treated me like I was in crisis,” she said. “The next one treated me like I was a criminal. This is going to be a game changer.”

The number, which launched Saturday, will immediately connect callers with the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline and licensed, trained counselors.

“Let’s say they’re feeling suicidal, or they’re in a really bad state with mental illness, or that they’re suffering from addiction and need to reach out to someone right away,” said Scott Osiecki, CEO of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County in Ohio. “It is a big problem right now. People are experiencing sadness. They’re experiencing anxiety with everything that’s going on in the world.”

In 2020 alone, the U.S. had one death by suicide every 11 minutes, making it the leading cause of death for people 10 to 34 years of age. Over 100,000 died from drug overdoses.

“So 988 is the right response for the need right now that we’re seeing with behavioral health,” said Osiecki. “We want people to have easy access to treatment to a referral or just to talk to somebody.”

The line is operational 24/7, free and confidential. Police and EMTs will be called when needed, potentially saving countless lives.

“There’s nothing to be ashamed about,” said Osiecki, “if you’re suffering with mental illness or an addiction as well. They are biologically-based brain diseases. We also want people to know that treatment works, and people do recover.”

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