The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), Bureau for Behavioral Health (BBH) has secured a $561,131 award from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to prepare for the transition of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to a new three-digit number (988) on July 16, 2022. West Virginia is one of 54 states and territories to receive a federal grant.
BBH funds West Virginia’s single National Suicide Prevention Lifeline call center, operated by First Choice Services, to answer in-state calls to the Lifeline, which includes the Veterans Crisis Line. On July 16, 2022, the three-digit dialing code for the Lifeline will become 988, replacing the current phone number of 1-800-273-8255. West Virginians needing support should continue to call 1-800-273-8255 until July 16, 2022.
The Lifeline accepts calls from anyone experiencing suicidal crisis or mental health-related distress. The state Lifeline/988 call center will also begin accepting texts and chats after July 16, 2022. The West Virginia Legislature passed and Gov. Justice signed Senate Bill 181 in March to help prepare for 988, and DHHR will continue to support call center capacity.
“988 is the first step in building an accessible crisis system that includes someone to talk to, someone to respond, and a safe place to be,” said Christina Mullins, Commissioner of DHHR’s Bureau for Behavioral Health. “Roughly 75 to 80 percent of calls help de-escalate and provide support without further crisis intervention needed."
For the callers who need additional crisis services (someone to respond or a safe place to be), the state is enhancing its crisis continuum. Presently, West Virginia has statewide Children's Mobile Crisis Response for children and youth up to age 21 available through the 24/7 Children’s Crisis and Referral Line (844-HELP4WV, https://www.help4wv.com/ccl). Adult crisis response services are available in certain counties.
“DHHR and its partners are collaborating to improve West Virginians’ access to needed behavioral health crisis services to prevent suicide and other detrimental outcomes,” added Mullins. “This new grant assists in saving lives in our state, where suicide is a leading cause of death for West Virginians aged 10-34, and a significant cause of preventable deaths across all age ranges.”