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988 offers easy access to mental health care

Ravalli Republic - 8/5/2022

Aug. 5—Dialing for mental help just got easier.

A new three-digit phone number for reaching mental health care has sped up the process. Individuals can easily dial "988" rather than "1-800-273-8255," although the 1-800 number will remain active.

Brittany Blair who runs the Lifeline Call Center at the Western Montana Mental Health Center in Missoula said callers have easier access to reach caring support.

"988 is open to individuals experiencing suicidal ideation, emotional distress, or are in crisis," she said.

Individuals can call 988 and be connected with a trained call specialist to receive emotional support, resources, and follow-up care," Blair said. "The Western Montana Mental Health Center is the host of 988 and our program is in Missoula."

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition, defines ideation as "thoughts about self-harm, with deliberate consideration or planning of possible techniques of causing one's own death." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines suicidal ideation "as thinking about, considering, or planning suicide."

Blair said that 988 is the new national mental health number and serves local communities and individuals.

"Individuals will be connected with a call specialist that is familiar with the area and what the community has to offer," Blair said.

The Missoula Call Center is operated every day, around the clock, and receives calls from seven counties — Ravalli, Missoula, Sanders, Lake, Lincoln, Mineral and Flathead.

This means that if someone from Ravalli County calls 988, a trained call specialist in Missoula will answer and provide the needed assistance, assuming the individual has a 406 area code.

If callers do not have a 406 area code, their call goes to the state of their area code; however, they can be transferred to a Montana center.

"The Missoula center offers extensive training to all staff and volunteers upon hire as well as ongoing training," Blair said. "We are fully staffed at this time, but if for some reason our call volume is higher than our staffing capabilities our calls will go to Great Falls or Bozeman, the two other call centers in Montana."

Across Montana, 988 has helped individuals receive 24/7 free and confidential support when they are experiencing suicidal ideation, emotional distress, or are in crisis.

"(Callers) are given support, connected with resources and offered follow-ups from center staff," Blair said. "It depends on what the caller is looking for and what their needs are. We do offer a follow-up call where we set up an appointment to call them back and check in to see how they are doing."

She said the center helps callers find a therapist or a doctor and explains how the ER works, the crisis house, the crisis team and what a welfare check looks like.

"We find them other resources that they need whether that be food, housing, bill assistance, things like that," Blair said. "988 will also lower 911's call volume so they can focus on dispatching Emergency Medical Services, fire and police as needed."

Cory DeStein, the director of the 988 program in Missoula, said 988 is such an essential part of serving the Montana community.

"988 isn't just an easy to remember number, its connecting individuals with other Montanans and supporting them through tough times in their lives," DeStein said.


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