Q&A: The new 988 mental health crisis line is now active in Hawaii. Here’s what to know

The original crisis line number does not going away and it will remain available to callers in distress.
Published: Jul. 16, 2022 at 4:08 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 16, 2022 at 6:46 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Every little step makes a big difference in saving somebody’s life — even a phone call.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has been a pivotal resource in the mental health community and gaining access has become easier with the launch of 988 on Saturday.

Hawaii has adopted the new three-digit code and it is now active.

“The 988 launch reflects a nationwide commitment to prioritizing mental health and increasing access to resources,” said Marian Tsuji, the state’s Deputy Director of Behavioral Health.

“It’s an easier way to access [mental health] services,” said psychologist Darryl Salvador. “Think of it as the 911 for psychiatric and emotional behavioral type issues, or substance type issues.”

According to advocates, the hope is 988 will better serve those who are in need of support in health or substance-abuse crises.

What happens to the original Suicide Crisis Lifeline?

The original number, 1-800-273-8255, does not going away and it will remain available to callers in emotional distress.

The new three-digit code was launched to make it easier for callers who are in need of emotional support.

So what can Hawaii residents expect when calling 988?

Calling or texting 988 on a mobile device will direct individuals with an 808 area code phone number to the Department of Health’s Hawaii CARES crisis helpline.

But first, you’ll hear an automated message featuring additional options while your call is routed to your local Lifeline network crisis center.

After your call is transferred, you’ll be greeted by a local CARES crisis screener who will ask whether you have an urgent crisis or need non-urgent support.

Based on the conversation, the crisis screener will help you figure out next steps. If necessary, they can arrange for a Crisis Mobile Outreach worker to provide in-person support.

In the case that the call center is unable to pick up, you will be redirected to the national Lifeline call center.

Individuals who call from out-of-state area codes will be connected with a crisis center to another state.

Who is Hawaii CARES?

The Hawaii Coordinated Access Resource Entry (CARES) program is a partnership between the state Department of Health and community-based mental health and substance abuse service providers statewide.

Hawaii CARES is a 24/7 free and confidential mental health and substance use call center. They support adults and adolescents through mental-health or substance use related distress.

According to the Health Department, Hawaii CARES received over 100,000 calls last year.

The program is part of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and aims to be a connecting source for those who are uncertain of what to do next.

Anyone can continue to reach Hawaii CARES by calling 808-832-3100 or 1-800-753-6879.

Why is the launch a big step in the mental health community, especially in Hawaii?

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the social, emotional and mental wellbeing of people globally. It is estimated that the prevalence of depression and anxiety have doubled during the pandemic.

According to the Department of Health’s Child and Mental Health Division, nearly 11,000 of Hawaii’s youth experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2020.

In addition, Hawaii’s National Alliance on Mental Illness found last February that nearly 38% of adults in the state reported symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Within the last year, the local organization also found that almost 200 lives were lost to suicide and approximately 49,000 adults had thoughts of suicide.

In an interview with HNN, Salvador said that having access to care in Hawaii has been more difficult because of it’s geographical isolation.

However, the launch of 988 bridges the gap, helping those especially in rural areas in a more quick and efficient way.

Salvador added:

Right now if you call 911, you know they may dispatch police, fire, medical service which may not necessarily be the best thing to get to someone who’s having a psychiatric crisis or a substance-abuse crisis... It sort of delays access to care... Whereas [988] will be directly linked to getting the right resources to the person.

Asking for help can be daunting but it’s an essential step toward healing. Adults and adolescents who are in need of emotional support are encouraged to utilize the lifeline.

“If you need help, then why not get the help you need. Why not access it?” said Salvador. “It’s a wonderful resource. Don’t be afraid to use it. People want to help, they want to do their best to help.”

“It’s okay to have some help.”

While the launch is a major step in the mental health community, advocates say there’s still a lot of work to do.

If you, or someone you know is in a crisis, call 988.

To learn more about the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or to access the Lifeline Chat, click here.

For more information on Hawaii CARES, click here.

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