Baltimore Sun

New suicide and crisis hotline up and running

- By Meredith Cohn

Maryland health officials have launched the state’s part of the new 988 National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, with local call centers ready to provide support and a connection to resources for anyone experienci­ng a mental health or substance use crisis, having thoughts of suicide or concerned about someone else.

The national line was designated in 2020 by Congress and replaces the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and a state hotline. Anyone across the country can now dial 988. The calls are routed by area code, not a person’s location.

The Maryland Department of Health has set up eight call centers around the state where trained specialist­s can answer in English or Spanish and translate to 150 other languages. The local centers will be backed up by a national line. Veterans can reach a specific Veterans Crisis Line by calling 988 and pressing 1. The centers can provide resources via phone, text or chat.

“988 is an easy-to-remember number and an incredibly fast way to get anyone who experience­s a behavioral health crisis the help they need right away,” Maryland Health Secretary Dennis R. Schrader said in a statement. “In addition, in Maryland, we are integratin­g 988 into our existing and expanding crisis system support network.”

Officials cited statistics from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administra­tion that show suicide as the leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34 in 2020. Data also shows that 100,000 people died from drug overdoses across the country from April 2020 to April 2021.

State health officials plan a campaign to advertise the new 988 line on the radio, social media and elsewhere for the next eight weeks. There also are billboards planned on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland next month.

The health department’s Behavioral Health Administra­tion also is expanding crisis services specifical­ly for youths through its Mobile Response & Stabilizat­ion Services and has developed resources for coping with violence and to support mental health among minority population­s.

The old national hotline, 1-800-2738255, and Maryland’s helpline, 211, will remain in use for a transition period.

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