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The new 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline can help anyone facing a wide range of mental health concerns—from thoughts of suicide to emotional distress, substance abuse, eating disorders and more. (Image via Shutterstock)

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can now be found by dialing or texting 988—putting people in touch with mental health support. Veterans lives will be saved, says a Wisconsin official.

An initiative led by Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin has converted the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to an easy-to-remember 988 hotline, website, and text message resource that will help thousands of Americans a day who reach out for help during crisis situations.

Three years ago, Baldwin introduced the bill that led to changes that took effect last weekend. 

The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a free and confidential service that is available 24/7, and anyone can access the Lifeline by calling 988 (multiple languages available), texting a message to 988 (English only), or using the chat feature at 988lifeline.org (English only). People of all ages who are experiencing a crisis—whether it involves thoughts of suicide, a mental health concern, a substance use issue, or any other kind of emotional distress—can get help for themselves or a loved one by connecting them with a trained crisis counselor. 

“We need to do everything we can to prevent suicide,” Baldwin said, “And that means improving the tools we have to help people who are suffering from depression or other mental health concerns. I’m very proud of working to get my bipartisan legislation signed into law and now we are increasing funding to implement 988 so that we make it as quick and easy as possible for Americans in crisis to get the help and support they need through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Veterans Crisis Line.”

Gov. Tony Evers said the state Department of Health Services (DHS) was adequately prepared for the transition to the new line and resources.

“Talking about mental and behavioral health is an important part of reducing stigma and making sure folks know they can get the support they need when they need it,” Evers said. “In our state, nobody carries their worries alone, and it’s important for Wisconsinites to know that help and hope are only a phone call away.”

Improving the access to resources and reducing the stigma of asking for mental health support will help people from all walks of life—perhaps few more so than veterans.

“From veterans across the state, I hear a similar sentiment shared again and again—’Of the men and women who served with me, I’ve lost more to suicide than to combat,” said Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Mary Kolar. “Veterans can now call 988 and press 1 to access the Veterans Crisis Line and be connected to a real person qualified to support veterans. I truly believe lives will be saved.”

Senator Baldwin also helped pass the 2022 fiscal year appropriations bill in March of this year that included over $101 million for the transition to 988 hotline and $5 million for the new Behavioral Health Crisis and 988 Coordinating Office at the Department of Health and Human Services. In late 2021, the Biden administration committed more than $280 million to fund both the Lifeline and 24/7 staff increases for states.