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Just dial 988 | How new national mental health hotline launching today works

988 is a three-digit line that will connect people with suicide prevention and mental health crisis resources.

ATLANTA — Starting July 16, anyone facing a mental health crisis will have a new way to access help, 24 hours a day, with just three simple numbers. 

988 is a national three-digit line that will connect people with suicide prevention and mental health crisis resources. 

In Georgia, 988 calls, texts, and chats will be answered by the Georgia Crisis and Access Line (GCAL).

"It helps break stigma by having a dedicated line specifically for mental health," said Abdul Henderson, the Executive Director of Mental Health America of Georgia. "So people will know that it's okay to not be okay and that they can call and get help and get referred to a crisis center or resource or talk to someone on the phone that can help de-escalate their situation."

Henderson said Georgia ranks 48th in the country when it comes to access to mental health services. He added Georgia has four counties, including Dawson County, that rank among the worst in the nation for suicidal ideation and severe depression.

"There is a need absolutely for the state of Georgia. I know Dawson County has led in death by suicide over the last ten years," said Henderson.

Henderson added while the hotline is a huge step forward, there are some concerns, like if there will be enough funding or enough staffing to handle the expected call load. 

He said they expect the new line to get about 500,000 calls a year in the state. 

"The state is kind of in a process of building and flying the plane at the same time," said Henderson. "The other concerning issue, I believe, is the issue with geo location. Say, for instance, we have a lot of people that have moved to the state or you may have a cell phone number that is not from Georgia. So if you call that 988 line, does it direct you to the national line or how can you get assistance in a timely manner? So I'm not going to say 988 is perfect, but is definitely a huge step in the right direction."

11Alive spoke with a woman who called GCAL a few years ago, for her son. She said a national line that's easy to remember and specific to mental health services is needed. 

"When you call 911, all of these people come. And that can be dangerous. As the mother of African-American males and females, it can be a dangerous situation," said Linda Henderson-Smith. 

Henderson-Smith said having a line like 988 is the difference between "life or death".

"What it meant for me was that my son is still alive, right? What it meant for me is that my son was able to learn how to tell when something was wrong and how to communicate what was wrong," said Henderson-Smith. 

She said 988 will act as both a response system and a prevention system.

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