Virginia – In the midst of a crisis, the ten-digit suicide hotline number can seem daunting to people looking for help.
That’s why starting Friday the United States is finally rolling out the new three-digit mental health crisis number.
Sherri Feathers is Vice President of Specialty Services at Frontier Health and has been a big part of the transition.
“There are a lot of people out there hurting that are looking for help that is a little reluctant to get help, so 988 is really an avenue where people, in a safe way, can call and talk with somebody,” Feathers said.
The shift to 988 has been several years in the making, but such a significant change has left people wondering if Virginia is prepared.
“It was kind of a moment of panic because, you know, it’s the unknown volume that we’re going to have in our call center so obviously it’s a concern for our staff,” Feathers said.
Frontier Health, the crisis response center that services Eastern Tennessee and much of Southwest Virginia, has been preparing for 988 for well over a year.
“We have spent the past year building our staff capacity and enhancing training for our staff to make sure they’re ready for the increase in calls,” she said.
Virginia as a whole has been working with regional call centers to ensure they have the resources to take calls.
“Virginia has really been proactive on the 988 initiative and getting ready for that and making sure the call centers have staff in place,” Feathers said. “We feel confident that we’re as prepared as we’re going to be for 988.”
Luckily for these centers and people in crisis, even if there are an overwhelming number of calls there is still a failsafe.
“The national backup system is phenomenal in that if one call center can’t handle calls or we’re busy, those calls will roll to another call center,” she said. “So that will help everybody to make sure that people actually get someone on the phone if they’re in crisis.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, do not hesitate to call 988 or the existing suicide hotline number - 1-800-273-8255