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New 9-8-8 mental health line goes live
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Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

by Dave Williams | Capitol Beat News Service

Georgians suffering from mental distress now have a new nationwide three-digit phone number they can call for help.

The new 9-8-8 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline went into effect on Saturday. Dialing the number puts a caller into direct contact with a trained mental health counselor rather than an emergency dispatcher who must handle a variety of calls including crimes in progress, fires and traffic accidents.

Counselors are able to address a caller’s immediate mental health needs and help connect them to ongoing care.

Today, an estimated 8% of all calls to 9-1-1 are related to a mental health crisis, according to data from Vibrant Emotional Health. The new 9-8-8 number will provide an easy-to-remember three-digit number people can call to receive the right mental-health crisis support.

Georgia is well prepared to make the 9-8-8 system a success, said Judy Fitzgerald, commissioner of the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD).

Calls to the new number from Georgia will be routed through the Georgia Crisis and Access Line, which was established in 2006 to provide around-the-clock support to people in crisis.

“Georgia’s work to develop its crisis network over the past 12 years has DBHDD well positioned for change,” Fitzgerald said.

“I am very excited about this work, how important it is, both in preventing suicide and in building a diverse coalition to develop an infrastructure that supports Georgians’ mental wellbeing for generations to come.”

The new system is expected to reduce health-care spending with more cost-effective early intervention, reduce the use of law enforcement and other safety resources by diverting calls from people in mental- health crisis, meet a growing need for crisis intervention and help end the stigma people feel when seeking mental-health services.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.