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New 3-Digit Number For National Suicide Prevention Hotline Aims For Crisis Intervention And De-escalation

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – You know 911 for emergencies, 411 for information and now there's 988 for people who need emergency help with their mental health.
The system was launched in Philadelphia.

Local, state and federal officials, including U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, are celebrating the launch of 988. They held a roundtable discussion in Philadelphia on Friday as part of a kickoff event.

Americans who call the three-digit number will be connected to a network of trained mental health professionals who can help them navigate through a psychiatric crisis.

When you call, an operator will greet you with "thank you for calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline." Callers are instructed to press 1 if they are veterans. If not, they'll be connected to the nearest crisis center.

The system is backed by $430 million in federal funding.

In April, Pennsylvania received a $3 million federal grant to help launch 988.

"To be able to call 988, they'll do some screenings but they'll be able to recognize the level of stress and the level of compromise that you find yourself in and get you to the proper treatment," John White, executive director of The Consortium, said.

U.S. Congressman Dwight Evans says the 988 system could have prevented the death of 27-year-old Walter Wallace, Jr., who was having a mental health crisis when he was shot and killed by police in West Philadelphia two years ago. His death set off protests and unrest in the city, but also began a discussion on how to deal with mental health crises.

"Our greatest disappointment was that we didn't get an opportunity to help him," White said.

Mental health advocates are expecting a huge influx of calls to 988 and they worry that could lead to calls getting dropped and wait times going up.

The federal government has been providing grants to states to support call centers and actively recruiting more counselors.

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