State launches 988 suicide lifeline

ELLSWORTH — The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has launched the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, a new three-digit dialing code available nationwide as an easy-to-remember connection to help for anyone experiencing a suicidal or mental health crisis.

The 988 Lifeline went live in Maine on Saturday, July 16, as planned, after more than a year of preparation by DHHS and a stakeholder coalition including partners from crisis services, 911, EMS and law enforcement. The 988 Lifeline responds 24/7 to calls, chats or texts from anyone who needs support for suicidal, mental health and/or substance use crisis, and connects those in need with trained crisis counselors. Individuals can also dial 988 if they are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support.

Nationally, 988 is the new three-digit dialing code connecting people to the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK). In Maine, calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline have been routed to the existing Maine Crisis Line since 2018. With Saturday’s launch of 988, the process remains the same — only the number is changing. Maine residents who call 988 are routed through the Lifeline network based on their area code and connected to a trained crisis specialist at the Maine Crisis Line. Specialists provide therapeutic support and assessment in the moment, and connection to community-based resources such as one of Maine’s regional mobile crisis teams. All 988 callers in Maine continue to be served by local providers.

“The 988 Lifeline represents a new, easily accessible front door for Maine’s statewide crisis services,” said DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew. “We encourage anyone experiencing a mental health crisis or those with concerns about a loved one to dial 988 for compassionate, expert help and a connection to support in their community.”

The Maine Crisis Line is administered by DHHS and managed by The Opportunity Alliance of South Portland.

“The launch of 988 in Maine opens doors to hope and support for the 1 in 4 Mainers who are struggling with a mental health challenge, marking an important step in transforming access to appropriate services within their communities,” said Hannah Longley, senior clinical director of community programs at NAMI Maine. “As with physical health emergencies, it is our hope that 988 will save lives by providing critical emergency services for mental health and suicidal crises. We look forward to continuing conversations to further normalize and streamline these services.”

As an additional access point to Maine’s crisis system, the 988 Lifeline serves as an alternative to dialing 911 for people who are experiencing emotional distress, thoughts of suicide, or a mental health crisis. People in need can receive immediate support from trained mental health specialists, while avoiding unnecessary law enforcement involvement. Currently, Maine Crisis Line staff are able to resolve 83 percent of the of the nearly 10,000 calls a month they receive on average on the phone, with no further intervention necessary.

The Maine Crisis Line will continue to answer calls, texts and chats to the current 10-digit number (1-888-568-1112) and calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number (1-800-273-TALK), as well as answer calls to the 988 Line. Texts and chats to 988 continue to be handled by the national Lifeline support center. Regardless of which number individuals dial, calls are answered 24/7 with free, confidential help and support for non-English speaking and deaf or hard of hearing callers.

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