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New 988 Suicide Prevention Hotline To Launch Saturday Nationwide

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Starting Saturday, additional mental health resources are being made available across the country. The Department of Health and Human Services is launching the 988 national suicide prevention lifeline.

It's hard to forget these scenes from 2020 in West Philadelphia, 52nd street torn apart following the death of Walter Wallace Jr. The unrest was prompted by the 27-year-old being shot and killed by police. Officers responded after Wallace's family called 911 asking for help.

As you can see, 52nd Street is back and open. Wallace's family called 911 asking for help, saying he was having mental health issues and police responded. But with the launch of the 988 program, the hope is that a mental health professional will respond.

"To be able to call 988, they'll do some screenings," John White said, "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."

White is the president and CEO of The Consortium in West Philly. The recovery and mental health services nonprofit hosted a roundtable Friday to launch 988, featuring federal leadership.

"988 is a message. When you hear 911, you think emergency and rescue," Xavier Becerra, the secretary of Health and Human Services, said. "Starting tomorrow, when you hear 988, think crisis and response."

The federal government is spending $430 million to launch the lifeline, but it's up to each state to fund its own program.

Pennsylvania invested $3 million. In New Jersey, they included $29 million in this year's budget for the program.

"We've been at this for several years now and every new resource is welcomed," said Louis Cappelli, director of the Camden County Board of Commissioners.

When 988 is called or texted, trained professionals will try to work with the person to resolve their issue. If necessary, a response unit could also be dispatched.

Back in West Philly, they say Wallace may have been able to be saved.

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

The 10-digit suicide hotline -- 1-800-273-8255 -- will continue to operate along with 988.

CBS3's Madeleine Wright contributed to this report.

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