With just the press of three buttons on any telephone, anyone can quickly and easily connect with free behavioral health resources.

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline came into operation recently. Much like other helplines, dialing or texting 988 will help the user reach a trained crisis counselor regardless of that location. These counselors are prepared to help callers with a range of things including mental health-related distress, thoughts of suicide, substance use crisis, emotional distress and those who are worried about a loved one who may need support. Specialized services are also available for certain groups of individuals with unique needs.

According to state health officials dialing 988 serves as “a universal entry point” to help connect callers with the best resources. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and phone number (800-273-TALK/8255) is still in existence but 988 is obviously an easier to remember number. The new Lifeline, as noted, is meant to expand its support for anyone experiencing a behavioral health crisis, not only those who are feeling suicidal.

In Michigan, leaders have opted to utilize a “soft rollout method” that aims to not overburden call centers and they are making plans to undertake formal marketing efforts in 2023.

At the national level, some observers have questioned the risks involved in getting help from 988, such as police involvement, involuntary treatment and other personal impacts but program administrators said their policy is to work with users on creating a safety plan that can help them access the help they need. Only when an individual won’t collaborate on such a plan or the counselor feels they will harm themselves imminently, their policy dictates that emergency services should be called.

There’s no question that making these types of mental health services more easily accessible is definitely needed, especially in more rural areas like ours. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 38 percent of Michigan adults with a mental health condition, and 80 percent of those with substance use disorders, are not receiving care and that’s due in large part to a shortage of mental health professionals in the state.

Hopefully, efforts to promote the new 988 lifeline will reach those who’ve experienced barriers to getting the care they need.