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New 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline launched as Sarasota faces mental health crisis

The new 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline – a nationwide program launched in mid-July to help make mental health care more accessible – arrives just in time to assist countless residents experiencing the ongoing effects of the pandemic as well as rising housing crisis, experts say.

Anyone undergoing mental health-related distress can call or text the 988 Lifeline, 24/7, and be connected to trained mental health crisis counselors and, if needed, be directed to a local mobile response team or additional resources.

Experts hope the three-digit number will be easier to remember than the National Suicide Hotline, 800-273-8255, which will remain active, with calls routed to 988.

The 988 Lifeline is a network of more than 200 state and local call centers supported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“The idea with 988 is that it’s a behavioral health response for a behavioral health crisis, and that ultimately it would take away from some of the calls that now go to 911,” said Colleen Thayer, executive director of the Sarasota-Manatee county affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI.

“This has been a long time coming,” Thayer said.

To support the 988 system, the Biden administration has invested more than $430 million in expanding crisis center capacities and related services. 

Thayer praised the Sarasota area’s local efforts to coordinate mental health care for youth and young adults.

But she added that her organization’s affiliates, along with many other agencies, continue to push for more resources for local mobile response teams.

Read the full Herald-Tribune article »