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988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline launches next week

Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media

Getting help in a behavioral health crisis is about to get 7 digits easier.

Starting next weekend, anyone in need of behavioral health services won’t have to look up the 10-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. On July 16, it becomes 9-8-8.

“Technically, it is a phone number change," Wang said. "It is a somewhat of a rebranding of the National Suicide Prevention lifeline, into the 9-8-8 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.”

Dr. Claire Wang, Associate Deputy Director of Research, Evaluation & Population Health at the Division of Health and Social Services, says there is already some capacity for handling these calls, but notes it took 9-1-1 50 years to reach the bandwidth it has today.

“We need workforce development, we need competent staff with the right training, in order to serve those who are in need, so funding is really important," Wang says. "We need resources and additional expansion to happen for someone to respond, which is a mobile crisis team who could go into the community and meet people face to face, as well as somewhere to go for crisis receiving facilities.

The launch is the beginning of a capacity expansion effort, rather than the end of one, and Wang says text and chat options are expanding too.

“Building the capacity to offer better chat and text capabilities in addition to phone calls so that they would be more accessible for people who are younger and more familiar with texting and chatting.” she says.

Dr. Wang also says that 9-8-8 and 9-1-1 are meant to be complimentary services to one another and will continue to work closely together to direct crisis calls to the right place.

Behavioral health workforce continues to experience shortages and recruitment and retention challenges, but Wang says in Delaware, trained volunteers and counselors have effectively run the existing lifeline structure for over 40 years, and will only grow.

Rachel Sawicki was born and raised in Camden, Delaware and attended the Caesar Rodney School District. They graduated from the University of Delaware in 2021 with a double degree in Communications and English and as a leader in the Student Television Network, WVUD and The Review.