Virginia launching crisis programs ahead of suicide prevention hotline change

Published: Oct. 26, 2021 at 4:46 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 26, 2021 at 5:03 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Starting this week, some states - including Virginia - had to start dialing the full 10 digits when making calls. Still, the change has a more significant implication because it leaves phone lines available for the upcoming National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Thanks to a law establishing multiple crisis centers in the Commonwealth, Virginia will be more than ready to take distress calls from the lifeline next year.

Thirty-five states in the country are freeing up the numbers 988. The code has been designated for the lifeline; seeking help in a time of crisis will now be as easy as dialing 911.

“988 makes it that one-stop-shop for people,” said Heather Norton, Assistant Commissioner of Developmental Services with the state’s Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services.

She says that in December, Virginia is launching five Marcus Alert teams to provide help in times of crisis for people who might need a children’s crisis line, veterans’ crisis line or suicide prevention line, among other services.

It’s all part of the legislation passed last year that focuses on dealing with mental health and other incidents.

“It’s not only about 988, but to the extent possible of diverting calls away from 911, so people experiencing behavioral health crisis are connected to behavioral health support,” Norton said.

These services will eventually be the same services that Virginians will be connected to when the National Lifeline launches next July.

“Some regions will be ready to go right on Dec. 1, some will be coming online as we set that up, but our data platform will be ready to go on Dec. 1,” Norton added.

The current number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. The shorter 988 number launches on July 16, 2022.

Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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