June Leffler Published

988 Crisis Line Is One Step Closer To Rolling Out In W.Va.

For anyone in emotional distress, picking up a phone and finding help will be a lot easier beginning this summer.

911 is the ubiquitous number to dial in case of emergencies. This July, 988 will become the number for emotional emergencies starting in July.

Congress mandated the new number in 2020 through the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act. This week, West Virginia lawmakers detailed how they’d best roll that crisis line out in the state, with both chambers unanimously approving Senate Bill 181.

“Folks won’t have to look up a number or find a brochure where they had the 1-800 number printed out. We’re hoping that over the course of time… this number will be on people’s minds and that they’ll have a quick access point to just reach out,” said CEO Lata Menon of First Choice Services, which will operate the line in West Virginia. First Choice Services also operates the tobacco quit line and other help lines in the state.

Menon expects the state to receive $1.8 million in federal funding, which will be managed by the state. That money will be used to hire 30 more hotline workers and promote the number.

“Senate Bill 181 is going to allow us the ability to completely separate that workflow so that we will have a dedicated staff who do nothing but answer the lifeline for the state of West Virginia,” Menon said.

People will also be able to chat by text.

“We know that a lot of younger people will find that’s an easier way to reach out, a more comfortable way for them to reach out,” Menon said.

National projections estimate calls could increase threefold over four years. 988 rolls out this July. In the meantime, anyone can call 1-800-273-TALK.

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from Charleston Area Medical Center and Marshall Health.