Special to Iredell Free News

RALEIGH — Starting Saturday, July 16, people in mental health crisis can dial 9-8-8 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and get immediately connected to trained crisis counselors 24/7.

The new three-digit number provides a faster, easier way to get the help already available at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

“Help is available to those experiencing a mental health crisis,” said N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kody H. Kinsley. “Our goal is to make 9-8-8 a household word that North Carolinians know they can access from wherever they are to get the help they need. This resource will literally save lives.”

Since 2012, the NCDHHS has partnered with REAL Crisis Intervention Inc. in Greenville to operate the NC Suicide Prevention Lifeline call center. In addition to providing trained crisis counseling, the call center connects also callers to help in their local community based on each caller’s specific needs. As the number changes to 9-8-8, the call center is also adding 24/7 chat and text response.

North Carolina’s call center is one of the most responsive in the country. In May 2022, 98 percent of calls were answered in less than seven seconds, the second-best rate among the 50 states. The new 9-8-8 number is expected to bring up to 30 percent more calls per year because it is easier to remember and access. The call center is adding more staff to make sure it is ready to handle the additional volume

“Getting help as early as possible is the most important step people can take to prevent a mental health crisis or keep it from getting worse,” said NCDHHS Deputy Secretary for Health Mark Benton, “The 9-8-8 number is a big step towards making it as easy as possible for people to reach out for help.”

NCDHHS in collaboration with many community, local and state partners, has been preparing for the launch of 9-8-8 and received a $3.3 million federal grant in April to transition to the new number.

Additionally, $1.3 million in recurring funds to support the call center was included in the budget that was passed by the N.C. General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper earlier this week.

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For more information on the NSPL, visit 988lifeline.org

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