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The Launch of the 9-8-8 Dialing Code

In July of 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted rules to establish 9-8-8 as the new, nationwide, 3-digit phone number for Americans in crisis to connect with suicide prevention and mental health crisis counselors.

988 will increase access to care for individuals experiencing a crisis. It will be a simple number to remember, make it easier to access critical support, and will result in more people getting connected to the appropriate life-saving resource.

Crisis lines have the highest stabilization rate and the lowest cost per interaction in the behavioral health continuum.

Greater than 80% of calls to crisis lines are stabilized on the phone without the need for additional intervention.

Currently, people with suicidal thoughts are encouraged to either contact 9-1-1, their local crisis line, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) which routes callers to their local crisis line (~170 local crisis centers nationally including Crisis Connections). The current crisis care system is disjointed and antiquated. Developing a more effective system is more important than ever.

  • In the past decade, deaths by suicide have increased by 36% in WA and is the second leading cause of death for 10–24-year-olds.
  • As a result of the pandemic and all its immense impact, mental health struggles and substance abuse have steadily risen, and that trend is likely to continue for years.
  • 3x increase in number of 24-Hour Crisis Line callers reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression from 4/2020-5/2021 over 2019
  • Communities of color are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic
  • Using 9-1-1 for MH crises is not effective and frequently escalates the situation. First responders are not equipped or trained to properly address suicide and mental health crises.
  • 1 in 4 police shootings are a result of officers responding to people in behavioral health crisis
  • Using trained behavioral health staff to respond to these crises will reduce the use of emergency departments and jails as a response method

9-8-8 will increase accessibility to the right support for those in mental health crisis and save lives.

On May 13, 2021, Governor Inslee signed the 988 bill, HB 1477, into law. The vision is to create a robust behavioral health call system that can triage, provide rapid and appropriate response, follow up services, and coordinate with 9-1-1, law enforcement and behavioral health providers. When there’s a police, fire, or rescue emergency – call 9-1-1. When there’s an urgent mental health need, call 988.

9-8-8 will improve the way we are responding to and treating behavioral health crises

This will translate to:

  • more appropriate use of our community’s criminal justice resources
  • long-term cost savings by decreasing inappropriate use of emergency services and jails, a healthier community
  • a healthier community

“An improved crisis response system will reduce reliance on emergency room services and the use of law enforcement response to behavioral health crises and will stabilize individuals in the community whenever possible.”

The new law will support the deployment of appropriate and effective crisis response services. Language from the law:

These new initiatives will create a 9-8-8 crisis line program at Crisis Connections.

The Crisis Connections 9-8-8 call center will support and service the state’s most densely populated and highest need regions of the state. Crisis Connections will make improvements and scale up to be ready for the launch July 2022. Improvements include:

  • Addition of text and chat options
  • Large increase in clinical staff to support the expected rise in calls
  • Addition of certified peer counselors
    to provide follow-up and outreach to callers in distress
  • Technology upgrades and improvements

More information is coming soon! Please reach out to learn more about 9-8-8 and how you can help make it easier for our community members in crisis to access potentially life-saving resources.