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New mental-health crisis line 988 goes live Saturday

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Starting Saturday, a new crisis line will give Oregonians with suicidal thoughts three easy digits to remember — 988 — instead of a 1-800 number.

According to the Oregon Health Authority, the three-digit number is designed to help people who are experiencing a range of mental-health and behavioral-health crises, such as thoughts of self-harm, but also people with substance-use issues “or any other kind of behavioral-health crisis.”

People also can dial 988 if they are worried about a loved one in crisis.

Crisis counselors follow National Suicide Prevention Lifeline guidelines to use “least invasive interventions” to link a caller to services, and the Health Authority — drawing from National Suicide Prevention Lifeline numbers — states that counselors are able to resolve more than 95% of calls over the phone.

The new line, which will be available 24 hours, 7 days a week starting July 16 on Oregon landlines, cellphones and voice-over internet devices, as well as by text and online chat, connects people in crisis to trained counselors offering compassionate care, according to OHA, but 988 is more than just a suicide hotline.

The crisis line aims to be the starting point for broader changes to the crisis response system in Oregon, with more funding to community mental-health programs and community-based behavioral-health treatment facilities funded by Measure 110 dollars, according to OHA.

Call services are available in English and Spanish, with interpretation services in more than 150 languages. Texting 988 and online chat, at 988lifeline.org are available only in English.

In Oregon, with the exception of callers in two counties, calls to 988 in the state will be routed to a call center operated by the nonprofit Lines for Life. Callers in Marion and Polk counties will be routed to a call center operated by Northwest Human Services.

The Oregon Legislature allocated $7 million for call center staffing to Oregon House Bill 2417, passed in 2021.

When asked whether there are instances when dialing 911 remains prudent, Rusha Grinstead, OHA behavioral health crisis system and 988 lead, emailed the following statement:

“People should continue to call 911 in an emergency — when they need emergency medical services, fire or police to respond in person.”

The new 988 will provide an easy-to-remember phone number for people who want to access behavioral-health crisis support and who may be hesitant to call 911 during a behavioral-health crisis.

Compared with 911’s focus on dispatching in-person responders, 988 will provide emotional support over call, chat or text. In the event of an emergency (such as helping a caller at imminent risk of suicide or harm to others), 988 can directly connect people to 911 to ensure safety. Call centers for 988 also follow national guidelines to help such callers.

Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTwebeditor.