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Here's a look at how the new 988 mental health hotline is working in Georgia

Call volume in Georgia has soared by 24% since switching over from the 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to the new 988 system on July 16.

ATLANTA — A new 24/7 mental health hotline is seeing a spike in calls in Georgia since launching two weeks ago, according to dispatchers. The new 988 number has seen a 45% increase nationally too.

People who call 988 can get resources and dispatch can send out mental health professionals to help if needed. 

The idea is that keeping the number to three digits makes it easy to remember, and the hotline helps break the stigma around mental health.

Hannah Wesolowski with the National Alliance on Mental Health said 988 can also help people struggling with substance abuse.

"The system is so vital to help people who are experiencing a range of crises," Wesolowski said.

Call volume in Georgia has soared by 24% since switching from the 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to the new 988 system on July 16.

"More often than not, those folks are just looking for someone to talk to or the crisis of the moment can be de-escalated because they are talking to licensed clinicians," said Ashley Field with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health

The state's behavioral health department runs the 988 hotline, also known as the Georgia Crisis and Access Line.

RELATED: No, 988 suicide prevention lifeline can’t send your exact location to police

According to data from the agency, they received 1,763 calls the first week before 988 kicked off. Compare that to the 1,426 calls they got the week before when they still used a 10-digit phone number, and they said calls are answered quickly.

"We've been able to manage our response to those calls and keep our answer rate down to below 20 seconds," Fielding said.

The people answering calls can send a mobile crisis response team if needed. 

"That's basically a van with a counselor or other mental health clinician," Fielding explained. 

That helps avoid tying up 911 call centers with mental health calls while still serving as both a response and prevention system, advocates said.

"A lot of people in crisis are met with a law enforcement response," Wesolowski said. "We want to provide mental health services when somebody is in a mental health crisis."

Wesolowski said there are some situations where people should still call 911.

"Call 911 if somebody is physically at risk, they have an injury, or their life is at risk," Wesolowski said. 

They expect the new line to get about 500,000 calls a year in Georgia.

Georgia has invested $20.5 million in the 988 system. That includes adding staff to answer phones and to the mobile crisis unit, as well as increasing bed space for treatment. 

   

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