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A new phone number for behavioral health crisis needs will soon be launched nationwide. Instead of dialing 911, people should call 988 to report when someone is in danger of self-harm or suicide. Marin County agencies are educating locals about the new option and when to use it.

From July 16, 988 is the number to dial or text for urgent help in a mental health or addiction crisis, or even when seeing another person dealing with a behavioral health problem. The Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) envisions 988 as a first step toward a transformed national crisis care system. The service is a universal entry point to a trained emergency advisor, regardless of the caller’s location. Marin will be among the first counties to launch 988, as other regions across the United States plan to launch later in 2022.

“We hope that calling 988 in a behavioral health crisis will become as natural as calling 911 in a medical or security emergency,” said Dr. Jei Africa, Director of BHRS. “Everyone has a role to play in crisis response and suicide prevention and that’s why we’d like everyone to be aware of this new issue.”

The local Suicide Prevention Lifeline provider is Novato-based Buckelew Programs. Staff who receive 988 calls or texts will quickly assess the emergency and call in trained emergency counselors to provide an appropriate response. Urgent calls requiring in-person mobile crisis response are directed to clinical staff at the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and its Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery Services (BHRS).

“Bucklew Programs is proud to lead the transition of 988, providing vital services to residents of Marin,” said Chris Kughn, CEO of Buckelew Programs. “This means better access for those suffering from mental health issues, addictions or suicidal crises. Our trained counselors can provide callers with de-escalation, safety planning, connection to resources, and engagement with mobile and emergency response teams as needed. The hotline assists a person experiencing any level of distress with inclusive, multilingual and culturally appropriate services. 988 aims to understand the caller’s urgent mental health needs and is an alternative to our current emergency response systems.

The creation of the 988 line is an extension of the free 24/7 services and confidential support for callers in emotional distress that have been available since 2005. The federal government has designated the number 988 to operate via the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in 2020 and set to work creating the infrastructure and training counselors fluent in multiple languages ​​to meet the needs of callers. States can now raise money to fund call centers and related mental health crisis services by attaching new fees to phone lines. In California, Assembly Bill (AB) 988 is pending in the state Senate and would help launch the hotline and provide funding to local service providers to handle calls.

The timing of the launch this summer is tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has added stress to many lives. The national suicide rate has climbed nearly 30% since 1999 and is now the second leading cause of death among young people, according to federal sources. About 20% of the American population has a documented mental health problem.

Recently, high-profile acts of violence against innocent people — particularly in the United States and especially with guns — have brought more attention to the need for mental health services. It is estimated that the victims of 25% of all officer-involved shootings are people in mental health crisis. So far, law enforcement agencies across the country have supported the 988 program.

“While our 911 dispatchers will continue to be trained in crisis communications, de-escalation and recognition of people in mental health crisis through our in-house Post-Certified Crisis Response Team training program, we welcome the opportunity to work cohesively with 988 operators,” said Heather Costello. , communications manager for the Marin County Sheriff’s 911 call center. “Cross-system partnerships are critical to the success of 988, as the dedicated phone number will utilize resources from various disciplines, such as mental health, police and fire, depending on the services the person in crisis may need.”

Marin HHS oversees government-funded behavioral health and recovery services locally. More resources are on the BHRS webpage.

If you or someone you know is in mental distress, find resources at or contact:

Marin Suicide Prevention Hotline: (415) 499-1100

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1 (800) 273-8255 and en Español: 1 (888) 628-9454

The Trevor Lifeline: 1 (866) 488-7386

Friendship Line (for ages 60 and over): 1 (800) 971-0016

Crisis text line: Text SAILOR to 741741

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