988 became the new three-digit dialing code to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on July 16 and provides a simple way to connect with counselors, and other supports and resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The previous Lifeline number, 1-800-273-8255, remains active and is still available to call.
“Just like 911 is an easy-to-remember number to call to reach police, fire and emergency medical services during an emergency, 988 provides a fast and simple method to connect to people who can assist those experiencing a mental illness crisis,” said Burlington County Commissioner Felicia Hopson, the Board’s liaison to the Department of Human Services and Health Department. “This is a major development that will save lives and provide immediate help for those in distress. It also helps reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness, depression and addiction.”
The 988 hotline provides a direct connection to a Lifeline network crisis center, where a trained crisis professional will answer the phone and offer confidential support and assistance. Connections to other services and resources will be made for those who require it.
The call service is provided in English and Spanish and crisis centers also use Language Line Solutions to provide translation in over 250 additional languages. Text and online chat options are also available for people who prefer not to call.
For emergencies involving someone believed to be imminent danger, call 911.
Burlington County Health Department Director Dr. Herb Conaway said the national hotline’s change to a three-digit dial would help improve crisis care and prevent tragedies. New Jersey’s five existing hotlines will be consolidated under the 988 hotline. The state budget also includes $16 million to expand mobile crisis response units that will provide more timely help to those in need and facilitate connections to ongoing care.
A total of 679 New Jerseyans died from suicide in 2020, including 36 from Burlington County, according to New Jersey State Health Assessment Data.
“Depression, addiction and other mental health illnesses shouldn’t be treated like a personal weakness or flaw. They are health conditions and need to be treated as such,” said Dr. Conaway. “The new 988 dialing code ensures those with behavioral health care needs can access free and confidential support at all times. You are never alone and help is just a three-digit phone call or text away.”
Burlington County has taken a leadership role in reducing the stigma surrounding substance use disorders and mental health conditions and making assistance available to those in need.
Last year, the commissioners approved a resolution designating all of Burlington County as stigma-free and pledged to combat misperceptions about mental health and addiction and to increase awareness about available treatment and support programs.
At least 17 municipal governments have now passed similar resolutions expressing support for the County’s stigma-free initiative, including Bordentown City, Bordentown Township, Burlington City, Burlington Township, Chesterfield, Cinnaminson, Delran, Evesham, Florence, Lumberton, Moorestown, Mount Holly, Mount Laurel, Palmyra, Pemberton Township, Shamong and Westampton. Rowan College at Burlington County’s Board of Trustees and school boards in 20 Burlington County school districts have also approved stigma-free designations.
Burlington County Commissioner Allison Eckel said the local support sends a powerful message to residents suffering with mental illness or substance use disorder.
“We want all our residents to know they are not alone and that assistance and support is available to anyone who needs it,” Eckel said. “The launch of 988 is a giant step forward but we must continue to look for ways to end the stigma that often surrounds these health conditions.”