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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – You’ll soon be able to dial a three-digit number designed to make it easier to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The new number will offer resources for all mental health crises and will launch across the state Saturday.

We all know 911. You dial it when you have an emergency, and the dispatcher answers the phone. Starting this weekend, you’ll want to remember 988, connecting you with counselors to help you in a time of need. 

“We expect that there is going to be a huge call volume increase because of 988,” said Mikala Jungmeyer-Geiger, youth service manager for the Missouri Behavioral Health Council (MBHC).

Instead of trying to remember an 11-digit number, now all you’ll have to know is 988.

“The 1-800 number was too long to remember and people would have to go to their computer or on their phone, while they are handling all the things in their head related to should I take my life,” said Jungmeyer-Geiger. 

According to the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), in 2020 there were 1,125 suicides in Missouri. One year later in 2021, that number increased to 1,176. The new number is expected to decrease hospitalizations.

“The goal is to reduce the utilization of law enforcement where we can because we know that law enforcement has historically been the default behavioral health crisis responder,” said Casey Muckler, 988 state lead for the Department of Mental Health (DMH).

A map of the 988 number coverage in Missouri by the Missouri Department of Mental Health Division of Behavioral Health

Muckler said last year, more than 40,000 calls went to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline from Missouri. She expects that number to increase to nearly 172,000 calls within the next year.

“We think most of our calls to 988 are going to be resolved over the phone,” said Muckler. “Discuss what they are currently going through, help to meet their immediate needs, work with them on a safety plan or a crisis plan if that’s needed, and get them connected with ongoing care or support.”

DMH oversees the state’s contract with the national hotline. Starting Saturday, the three-digit number will work in all 50 states. Missouri will have six different call centers. When you call 988, you will be routed to the closest call center based on your area code. The following health centers respond to different regions of the state. 

  • Behavioral Health Response – northeast and southeast Missouri, including St. Louis County and City
  • Burrell Behavioral Health – central and pieces of southwest Missouri, including Columbia and Branson 
  • CommCARE – northwest Missouri, including Jackson County 
  • Compass Health – throughout central Missouri, including Lake of the Ozarks, St. Charles County, and Cass County 
  • Ozark Center – southwest Missouri, including Joplin
  • Provident Behavioral Health – southwest Missouri, including Dad, Lawrence, and Barry counties. 

If you don’t want to pick up the phone and call, you can text.

“You just type in 988 and you start expressing, just like you would on the phone and they will have a conversation with you like you were texting a friend,” said Jungmeyer-Geiger.

DeafLEAD is the center that monitors text and chats. The text and chats aim to reach younger Missourians and people with disabilities. 

“Social media can be positive, but we also know that it can be very negative, and we’ve never had social media like this before and it’s blowing up every single day,” said Jungmeyer-Geiger. “I think youth are experiencing a lot of different things that we’ve never handled before.”

Missouri is also home to two backup crisis centers, meaning if other states are overwhelmed with calls, callers will be routed to the Show-Me State. Those locations are Provident Behavioral Health and Behavioral Health Response.

The three-digit number is expected to cost them $16 million. Once someone calls 988 if the crisis is not resolved, the mobile response unit will be activated and a clinician will be sent to check on the caller.

“If it is something where a person is past the point of a clinician, then we would, of course, decide to make that 911 call,” said Jungmeyer-Geiger. “Staff will be trained on trauma-informed services, de-escalation, and just how they can help that person and talk them down.”

In 2020, the National Suicide Lifeline received nearly 2.4 million crisis calls across the state. You can still reach the hotline by calling 1-800-273-8255. The 988 number goes into effect Saturday. 

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