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New 988 mental health hotline goes live Saturday. NAMI explains how it works

"We want to treat people where they're at, in a community setting, not in the ER if we don't have to and certainly not in our jails."

MOLINE, Ill. — Beginning Saturday, July 16, Americans will have access to a new mental health crisis lifeline. People in need of help can call or text 988 to get access to resources in their specific area.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the lead organization behind the lifeline. It's in partnership with the FCC and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

It's like 911 for your mental health. 

According to SAMSHA, the new hotline is a direct connection to compassionate, accessible care and support for anyone experiencing mental health-related distress – whether that is emotional distress, thoughts of suicide, substance use crisis or other mental health issues.

News 8's David Bohlman sat down with Angela Gallagher, executive director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness of the Greater Mississippi Valley, to discuss how it all works. 

Find the full conversation below.

RELATED: Yes, the suicide prevention lifeline is changing to 988, but the old number will still work

Bohlman: What Is 988 and why do we need it?

Gallagher: In 2020, a bipartisan effort in our US Congress decided that it was time to tackle providing a mental health response for a mental health crisis, and take the pressure off emergency responders at 911. The feeling is that trained mental health professionals should be answering those phones.

Why would someone call 988?

Well, people should know that the call is, or text is free, it's confidential. So often, at our office, we get calls from family members who just don't know where to turn. And we also get calls from individuals living with a mental health condition, who sometimes find themselves in trouble. And they just need help, they may not need hospitalization. And so it's important that we have the right people answering the phones and backing that 988 number. We hope it will be answered by local crisis lines, as it is in our both eastern and western Iowa and western Illinois communities. And 988 is really the beginning of our nation needing to look at reimagining how we treat individuals and their families that are living with a mental health condition.

Can a person call and text 988?

Absolutely. The counselors are reachable by 988 via text. And there's hope that we think younger generations who are in trouble are young people coming through the pandemic are in trouble, suicide rates are up. And so we hope that that will be an easier way to access help.

How will calls for 988 be fielded?

The Eastern Iowa Mental Health Region is five counties extending all the way from Maquoketa to Muscatine. On the Illinois side, we're starting in Henry County, Rock Island, Mercer and then swooping all the way down towards Burlington on the Illinois side. The good news is that Foundation2 Crisis Services answers all of those calls. And even better is that they have specialized databases, they know what services are available right there in your hyper-local area. And can and can provide answers as to what the next step is.

You can learn more about 988 by clicking this link.

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