California’s new mental health crisis hotline debuts

People experiencing mental health crises now only need to remember three numbers to call for help: 988.

The new federal number — which debuts in California and across the country this weekend — is billed as an alternative to 911 for people experiencing mental health emergencies. Here, advocates say the shortcut will make it easier for people in crisis to use the state’s network of 13 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline call centers.

The plan has been in the works for almost two years.

In October 2020, then President Donald Trump signed a bipartisan bill to establish 988 as a national number. That law also gave states the ability to fund call centers and mental health crisis services by attaching new fees to phone lines. So far, only four states have managed to do so; California may soon be poised to be the fifth.

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