988 Suicide Hotline Activated

Jul 19, 2022 | Healthcare, News, Telecom & Tech

Old rotary phone


As of this weekend, the number to call for help in a mental health crisis is suddenly easier to remember: 988. The dialing code to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline activated on July 16 after a year-long phase in.

Mental Health 911

Callers in Alaska who dial 988 from a 907 area code are connected to Careline Alaska, a phone bank in Fairbanks where a trained crisis counselor provides confidential support 24/7 for anyone of any age, including non-English speakers and those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Counselors are trained to respond to crises, provide emotional support, and connect callers with local resources.

“People can also dial 988 if they are worried about a loved one who may need support,” says Leah Van Kirk, statewide suicide prevention coordinator with the Alaska Division of Behavioral Health.

“The goal of 988 is to provide a simple and direct way for Alaskans to immediately access professional mental health support in a time of need,” says Steve Williams, CEO of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority. “An effectively resourced 988 Lifeline can truly save lives; it connects a person in a mental health crisis or contemplating suicide to a trained counselor who can address their immediate needs and help connect them to ongoing care. In addition, by promoting 988 and talking about the importance of the Lifeline, we can also help end the stigma associated with seeking mental healthcare.”

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Nationally, the suicide rate has climbed nearly 30 percent since 1999, and Alaska continues to have among the highest per capita suicide rates of any state.

The implementation of 988 is happening alongside large-scale system reform efforts in Alaska and nationwide to improve crisis response systems, mental health and substance misuse supports, and suicide prevention efforts.

“Numerous partners contributed to planning for 988,” says Van Kirk, “including behavioral health service providers, law enforcement, tribal organizations, telecommunications companies, suicide prevention organizations and advocates, Alaska’s crisis call center, and state and local government agencies. Our collaborative work will continue as we implement this national initiative, strengthening our current resources to meet the unique needs of all Alaskans.”

Alaska Department of Health Commissioner Adam Crum notes that the old phone number for the Careline, 877-266-HELP, remains active. “There is no wrong door to seek help. The Alaska Careline is a member of the Lifeline and will continue to serve as both a crisis line and the ‘someone to talk to’ line for Alaskans.”

More information is available from the Division of Behavioral Health at visit988.alaska.gov, such as videos, fact sheets, and other resources about 988 in Alaska, as well as information about suicide warning signs and suicide prevention resources.

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