'Game-changer:' NC to launch new 988 mental health hotline

14 June 2022

— Getting help during a mental health crisis will soon be as easy, as dialing 9-8-8.

North Carolina is just weeks away from rolling out its new mental health hotline.

This 988 number replaces a longer 1-800 number tied to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

At the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, they are working to staff up the state’s call center because they expect to see an influx of callers when the new number launches on July 16.

Abby Salek remembers calling the Suicide Prevention Lifeline for the first time when she was 15. Now, she’s a mental health advocate.

“I was really struggling and I didn’t have access to therapy yet,” she says. “Just being able to speak to someone about what you are going through and get it off your chest to somebody you are never going to talk to again is comforting. It’s very comforting.”

Getting help is getting easier: The free 988 mental health hotline will be there for those struggling with anxiety, depression or thoughts of suicide

In North Carolina last year, the hotline received more than 35,000 calls. The state expects the 988 number to increase those calls by 30%.

“We want individuals to call at the moment they feel like they need help or even before that moment where they are so desperate to reach out for help,” said Deepa Avula, with DHHS.

Avula said DHHS is using a $3 million federal grant to staff up the state’s call center in Greenville. They’re hiring more crisis counselors to respond by phone and text message.

“We are in really great shape in terms of our crisis call center already,” Avula said.

Avula says, right now, the state is able to answer about 98% of all calls. She believes 9-8-8 will be a game-changer for mental health support.

“If we can intervene early enough. If we can give people support early enough that they don’t experience a true behavioral health crisis, that they don’t actually get to the point where they are really thinking about taking their lives,” she said.

Salek – who attempted to take her own life last year – wants others to know that seeking help is a sign of strength.

“Help is there,” she said. “Help is available to you and it’s within your reach and you don’t have to give up. You don’t.”

Because of the changeover to 988, DHHS is also requesting additional money from the General Assembly to ensure they are able to meet whatever demand this new hotline receives.

 Mental health graphic

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