AUGUSTA — The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced today the launch of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, a new three-digit dialing code available nationwide as an easy-to-remember connection to help for anyone experiencing a suicidal or mental health crisis.

The 988 Lifeline went live in Maine on Saturday, July 16, as planned, after more than a year of preparation by DHHS and a stakeholder coalition including partners from crisis services, 911, EMS and law enforcement, according to a press release issued July 18.

The 988 Lifeline responds 24/7 to calls, chats or texts from anyone who needs support for suicidal, mental health and/or substance use crisis, and connects those in need with trained crisis counselors. Individuals can also dial 988 if they are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support.

Nationally, 988 is the new three-digit dialing code connecting people to the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK). In Maine, calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline have been routed to the existing Maine Crisis Line since 2018. With Saturday’s launch of 988, the process remains the same — only the number is changing.

Maine people who call 988 are routed through the Lifeline network based on their area code and connected to a trained crisis specialist at the Maine Crisis Line. Specialists provide therapeutic support and assessment in the moment, and connection to community-based resources such as one of Maine’s regional mobile crisis teams. All 988 callers in Maine continue to be served by local providers.

“The 988 Lifeline represents a new, easily accessible front door for Maine’s statewide crisis services,” DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said in a press release July 18. “We encourage anyone experiencing a mental health crisis or those with concerns about a loved one to dial 988 for compassionate, expert help and a connection to support in their community.”

The Maine Crisis Line is administered by DHHS and managed by The Opportunity Alliance of South Portland.

Joseph Everett, president and CEO of The Opportunity Alliance, said in the press release, “The compassionate and talented staff at The Maine Crisis Line have been answering the calls of Mainers in crisis for six years, and they will continue to provide dedicated, expert care and support to those who need us most.”

Hannah Longley, senior clinical director of Community Programs at NAMI Maine, said in the release, “The launch of 988 in Maine opens doors to hope and support for the 1 in 4 Mainers who are struggling with a mental health challenge, marking an important step in transforming access to appropriate services within their communities.

“As with physical health emergencies, it is our hope that 988 will save lives by providing critical emergency services for mental health and suicidal crises. We look forward to continuing conversations to further normalize and streamline these services.”

As an additional access point to Maine’s crisis system, the 988 Lifeline serves as an alternative to dialing 911 for people who are experiencing emotional distress, thoughts of suicide, or a mental health crisis. People in need can receive immediate support from trained mental health specialists, while avoiding unnecessary law enforcement involvement. Currently, Maine Crisis Line staff are able to resolve 83% percent of the of the nearly 10,000 calls a month they receive on average on the phone, with no further intervention necessary, according to the press release.

“Implementing the 988 line in the State of Maine is another reminder that mental health is equally as important as physical health,” Maine EMS Director Sam Hurley said. “Maine EMS continues to work hand-in-hand with colleagues at DHHS and around the state to ensure that all patients receive the right care at the right time, no matter their emergency. As the 988 system continues to evolve, we will see even further alignment with this mission in ensuring that all patients receive the highest quality care from a well-trained expert as safely as possible.”

The Maine Crisis Line will continue to answer calls, texts and chats to the current 10-digit number (1-888-568-1112) and calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number (1-800-273-TALK), as well as answering calls to the 988 Line. Texts and chats to 988 continue to be handled by the national Lifeline support center.  Regardless of which number individuals dial, calls are answered 24/7 with free, confidential help and support for non-English speaking and deaf or hard-of-hearing callers.

In the short term, the launch of 988 is key to expanding Maine’s Lifeline call center infrastructure and capacity. Over the longer term, DHHS is working to bolster a crisis response system continuum linking anyone in crisis to community-based providers who can deliver a full range of crisis care services.