Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A new 9-8-8 Suicide Prevention Lifeline goes live nationwide on Saturday, July 16, a launch that has been two years in the making. Now Coloradans can dial easy-to-remember “9-8-8″ for mental health support.

“We are in the middle of a mental and behavioral health crisis. I hear about it everywhere I go in Colorado,” said Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet. “I’m hopeful that with this shortened number, we can expand support for people in need of immediate help. I will keep working to make sure our state has the resources to expand the lifeline’s services and ensure a quick and easy transition for Coloradans.”

In December 2021, Bennet announced that Colorado would receive up to $2.4 million in funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at the Department of Health and Human Services to implement 9-8-8.

The National Suicide Hotline (NSPL) is a national network of crisis centers linked through a 24/7 toll-free number that connects callers to immediate crisis care with trained counselors. Bennet co-sponsored the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which was signed into law in 2020 to create 9-8-8 and help make mental health support more accessible. He has continued to push for funding to ensure smooth implementation of the updated number and expand the lifeline’s services.

Bennet helped pass the Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) omnibus funding bill, which included $6.5 billion for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and $101.6 million for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and 9-8-8 implementation.

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act signed into law last month includes $150 million in one-time funding to strengthen the 9-8-8 NSPL. This aligns with the Suicide and Crisis Outreach Prevention Enhancement Act, which Bennet introduced with U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) in July 2021. This bipartisan legislation would expand and enhance the capacity of the NSPL and mental health crisis centers. It aims to increase awareness of the lifeline through outreach campaigns, collect and report on demographic data on individuals accessing the lifeline, as well as increase the capacity of the lifeline and crisis centers to provide mental health crisis intervention services.

The current NSPL, 1-800-273-TALK, will continue to operate alongside the new 9-8-8 number.

Those choosing to call 988 should know that its intent is as a helpline for people experiencing any mental or behavioral crisis, regardless of whether they are thinking of harming themselves. A trained counselor will listen and provide assistance. According to experienced mental health counselors, the majority of calls to crisis lines get resolved on the phone, many by just talking with someone to help the person develop a safety plan and give them someone to listen to their situation.

When a conversation is not enough, the counselor can help the caller connect with resources; within the Central Colorado area, that resource is Solvista Behavioral Health Services.. Those could include dispatching a mental health crisis response mobile units (in areas where those are available), referring to care in the community, or transferring the call to 911.

It is hoped that states are ready. Some mental health advocates and providers say many states don’t have enough resources to respond to an increase in call volume and haven’t secured long-term funding for the line, as Colorado has done. Others see the push to launch as a catalyst to bolster America’s response to crises and spur more investment in community mental health resources.