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988 Is New National Suicide Prevention, Emergency Mental Health Hotline As Of July 16

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the country.

Recent high profile incidents are shining a light on the issue.

CBS2's Aundrea Cline-Thomas explains how three numbers will make it easier to get help during a crisis.

"I was like, I just want to jump out of a window. I felt very lost. I felt agitated. I was scared," said Joel Leon.

He was on a bus, and in a full-blown mental health crisis. He got off, and called the suicide prevention lifeline.

"I just 'boo hoo' cried. Like, cried. And talked through my feelings of failure as a father. I talked about not wanting to be here, not feeling worthy of being here," Leon said.

He didn't have the 1-800 number memorized, but he knew how to find it, just in time.

Starting July 16, 988 is the new three digit code for suicide prevention and emergency mental health services across the country.

"With 988, it's going to be a much easier number to remember, and it really puts us in a position to help individuals," said Valerie Mielke, New Jersey's assistant commissioner of mental health and addiction services.


24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call 1-800-273-TALK
• Text TALK to 741-741 to text with a trained crisis counselor for free
• Emergency Psychiatric Services: (800) 854-7771
• Suicide Prevention Hotline: (877) 727-4747
Suicide Prevention Live Chat

988 calls will not be answered by operators, but trained crisis counselors who can also link callers to more resources.  And if further intervention is needed, a team of behavioral health professionals - not police - are supposed to respond.

"We want to avoid that escalation, and make sure we're not putting law enforcement in that situation where they may not be equipped to respond," said Hannah Wesolowski of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. "The goal is help, not handcuffs."

In the Tri-State Area, staff are being hired and trained for the call centers and mobile crisis teams.

New Jersey is preparing for the call volume to increase from 55,000 last year to 83,000 in the first year of the initiative. That's why the state is also expanding access to to mental health services.

"I liken it to an urgent care center for individuals who are experiencing behavioral health risks," Mielke said.

Now, years later, Leon is an author, and creative.

"The amount of time that it will take a person to dial those three numbers will save lives," Leon said.

Leon wants to remove barriers, and normalize asking for help.

When 988 is implemented in July, experts say a vast majority of calls can be resolved over the phone. Until then, if you or someone you know is in crisis, they can call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

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