Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced today that the Illinois Department of Human Services’ (IDHS) Division of Mental Health, with the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is expanding the state’s mental health safety net by rolling out 988, a new suicide prevention and mental health crisis line.

The code will be available nationally starting Saturday, July 16, 2022.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which has existed since 2005, is now available nationwide via a three-digit dialing code – 988 – making it easier for those in crisis to get the help they need. Converting to this easy-to-remember number offers the public increased access to potentially lifesaving, trained crisis counselors, according to a Friday state release.

State and federal funding have made it possible to increase staffing at Illinois’ six existing 988 call centers to ensure that calls are answered in-state.

In this Feb. 22, 2021, file photo, Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at Chicago State University in Chicago (Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP, File).

“Thanks to the many incredible counselors answering the call to serve those in crisis, the expanded 988 Lifeline number will help save many lives,” Gov. Pritzker said in the release. “To any Illinois resident who might be struggling, know that you are not alone. We are here to support you. You can receive help by dialing or texting 988.”

The 988 call and text line is a crucial first step toward ensuring SAMSHA’s three-part aspiration for our country — that over time, all Americans experiencing mental health crises have someone to call, someone to respond, and somewhere to go.

The new code is a first step toward transforming crisis care in America, a universal entry point to needed crisis services in line with access to other emergency medical services, the governor’s release said.

3rd leading cause of death for age 15-34

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young adults ages 15-34 in Illinois and fourth leading cause of death for those ages 35-44, the state release said. Overall, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the state.

The long-planned 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline takes effect on Saturday, July 16, 2022.

“The pandemic has had an impact on stress levels and mental health across the board,” said Dr. David Albert, Director, Division of Mental Health, IDHS. “This is an effort to increase access to vital crisis services, improve the efficacy of suicide prevention efforts, and overcome the stigma around getting help. This will bolster the crisis care continuum in Illinois, better connecting people in crisis with call takers trained in suicide prevention, crisis de-escalation and stabilization.”

“The past two-plus years have been an overwhelming time for many Illinoisans, and some feel like they are struggling alone,” said Illinois State Sen. Laura Fine. “988 is an expanded resource to assist people experiencing mental health issues. I encourage anyone feeling anxious or depressed to dial 988 for local support. A caring voice or a listening ear can make all the difference during times of stress.”

$15 million to bolster IL response

In addition to funding from the federal government, Governor Pritzker committed nearly $15 million to bolster Illinois’ statewide 988 Crisis Response Call Center.

State investment in the Division of Mental Health, which is one aspect of the state’s mental health services, has significantly increased during the Pritzker administration, totaling up to $830.3 million in the current FY23 budget. This is nearly a quarter billion-dollar difference from the previous administration, the state said.

People in mental health crisis or emotional distress can call or text 988 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Those who are not in crisis but who are seeking treatment options for mental health conditions can visit 988hotline.illinois.gov or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).