GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Starting Saturday, 988, the new national three-digit dialing code will take effect in Michigan, connecting people in the middle of a mental health crisis to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
“The 988 number is another step toward strengthening and transforming crisis care and mental health services in our state, which is a key focus of the department,” Michigan Department of Health & Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel said in a release. “This universal number means no matter where you live or call from, you can reach a trained crisis counselor who can help. We encourage Michigan residents or their family members to call 988 if they are experiencing mental health-related distress, emotional distress or a substance use crisis.”
Organizers say the rollout comes at a good time as people attempt to recover from pandemic-era stress.
“We know rates of suicide were climbing before the pandemic,” Dr. Debra Pinals, the medical director for behavioral health and forensic programs for MDHHS, said. “We know we have gone through so much with the pandemic. The signs of emotional distress of our society are out there. Everyone has had some impact one way or the other.”
In Kent County, counselors from Network180 will answer the calls. 988 operators can help people with any sort of mental health crisis.
“We consider crisis something that is self-identified. If a person believes they are in crisis, we are going to treat them like they are in crisis. There isn’t an established criteria you have to meet to be considered in crisis,” Network180 spokesperson Regina Salmi said.
Phone companies had to make some changes to accommodate the new code. For areas where 988 is used as the first three digits in a phone number, the area code is now required for local calls. That included several area codes in Michigan: 616, 810, 906 and 989.
Christy Buck, the founder of the be nice. campaign and the executive director of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, calls it a slight inconvenience that can make a life-or-death difference.
“It’s going to be so helpful. It’s just like anytime we have three digits, 211, 911. People remember those,” Buck told News 8 last year. “When someone is contemplating suicide, five minutes can make a difference for that person.”
The original number, 1.800.273.8255, will remain active and people can still reach the lifeline through that number.
—News 8 assistant news director Amy Fox contributed to this report.