IDAHO — The new mental health emergency crisis line 9-8-8 launched Saturday. Now anyone facing an emotional crisis, substance abuse issues or suicidal thoughts, seeking help is as easy as dialing three digits.
Calling 988 will connect the caller with trained personnel available to help during any mental health crisis. Some say it's a turning point for addressing behavioral health needs across the country and right here in Idaho.
“This is the beginning of what's going to be an evolving transformation in crisis care,” Idaho Crisis and Suicide Hotline Director Lee Flinn said.
What is 988?
The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act was signed into law in October 2020 — designating 988 as the national dialing code for anyone facing a mental health crisis.
“It is going to replace the current 11-digit number for the national suicide prevention lifeline,” Flinn said.
The Idaho Crisis and Suicide hotline averages about 70 contacts a day — either through phone calls or texts and it’s been increasing steadily, but Flinn says that's a good thing because it means people are reaching out for help. She hopes 988 will make the process even simpler.
“It's an easier-to-remember number and that’s the beauty of it,” Flinn said.
“It’s widely known that remembering a ten-digit number in the middle of a crisis is quite difficult to do for people, however, many of us when we enter any sort of emergency or witness an emergency can remember 911,” Idaho’s 988 Project Manager Nicole Coleman said.
Flinn said eventually, in this country and in Idaho the awareness level will be the same for 988 but it’s really going to take time to get to that point.
How is it funded in Idaho?
In other states — there are concerns about a lack of funding for the new system - leaving people with no one to talk to if they are in crisis.
The Idaho Legislature briefly considered Senate Bill 1125 in 2021 — which proponents say would have secured a more sustainable funding method to address mental health and suicide prevention, but the bill went nowhere.
“I am proposing we accelerate the implementation of the Behavioral Health Council’s recommendations by investing $50 million to improve behavioral healthcare across Idaho,” Little said in his 2022 State of the State Address.
In his speech, Little stated behavioral health is a priority — urging lawmakers to invest $50 million into the state’s services including 988.
“We are very fortunate that our crisis care continuum was granted funding for this year and what it looks like ongoing is unsure,” Coleman said.
While the fate of funding in Idaho is murky, the goal of 988 is clear: help connect those facing a mental health crisis.
“With that unified message, that will really get through to people and make it really easy to understand and definitely easy to remember that no matter what a person is going through, what type of crisis that they really are able to call 988 24/7,” Flinn said.
In 2019, Idaho had the 11th highest suicide rate in the U.S. according to the Department of Health and Welfare.
The goal of 988 is to reduce those numbers and better serve people experiencing crises while also easing the strain on hospitals, law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
What happens when you call using a different area code than Idaho’s?
As reported, 988 is replacing the national suicide prevention line and trying to mirror how people use 911 which connects you with an operator based on your location.
While 988 is up and working it isn't using a geo-location system just yet
If you moved to Idaho but didn't change your phone number you'll still be connected with someone when you call 988 but it will be based on your current area code.
So although you live here you might be talking to someone in a different state.
"You should reach a live person regardless of where you are. now, as it relates to will they know what services are available in that state? they won't. the goal however is to deescalate the person and care for their immediate needs,” Coleman said.
If you or someone you know needs help — you can call 988.