The Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health Friday began spreading the word about a new, nationwide, three-digit hotline that begins operation Saturday that will make it easier for people experiencing suicidal thoughts or a mental health crisis to get immediate help.
Beginning Saturday, people will be able to call or text 988 and receive assistance from a local source from the new national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
“988 is a game changer,” County Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a statement. “Starting this weekend, anyone experiencing a mental-health crisis or who has loved one that is in trouble can dial this short, easy to remember number and get connected to help.”
According to the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline’s website — 988lifeline.org — when a person in crisis calls or texts 988, he or she will be connected to a trained counselor who will “listen, understand how their problems are affecting them, provide support and connect them to resources if necessary.”
The current Lifeline number — 1-800-273-8255 — will remain available even after 988 is launched, according to the website.
In Los Angeles County, the Department of Mental Health has been working on logistics for more than a year “to ensure operational logistics and response teams are in place” for Saturday’s rollout, officials said.
Los Angeles-based Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, which already operates a suicide prevention center, will serve as 988’s provider locally, according to LACDMH.
“We are excited for the nationwide rollout of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline number, which will make it easier for people experiencing or affected by mental health crises to get immediate life-saving help to support their safety and well-being,” said Lisa Wong, acting director of the county Department of Mental Health.
“A key component of this new service is the availability of trained psychiatric mobile crisis response teams who can be connected to through the 988 line when necessary.”
According to the department, trained operators will triage callers to ensure they receive appropriate services, ranging from suicide crisis counseling over the phone to mental-health de-escalation counseling over the phone.
The operators can also, if needed, dispatch a mobile crisis team or law enforcement when safety is of concern.
In preparation for the 988 launch, the county has increased the number of teams of mental health professionals available to respond, according to the DMH.
The department already operates Psychiatric Mobile Response Teams, or PMRTs, which consist of unarmed mental-health workers on duty between 8 a.m. and 2 a.m.
In the coming weeks, officials said, those hours will be expanded to 24/7 with an expanded number of PMRTs and the launch of Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams, or MCOTs, which will provide services outside of PMRT hours.
Both crisis response teams will be connected through the new 988 system, officials said.
“In some cases, talking to a professional on the phone won’t be enough,” Hahn said. “That is why it is so important that we have teams of mental health professionals across the county who can drive out directly to a person in crisis, deescalate situations and connect people with long-term help. We need to expand these teams so that we have enough to respond to every mental health crisis across the county where they could be helpful and get there quickly so that it is a viable alternative to 911.”