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San Diego County to expand Mental Health Crisis services with 988 number

This new service is in addition to San Diego County's Access and Crisis Line at (888) 724-7240.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Starting this week, San Diegans experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis, including thoughts of suicide, will be able to call or text 988 to get help for themselves or a loved one.

On Saturday, the 988 number will connect to a trained counselor who can help them and connect them to services in the area where they live. This new service is in addition to San Diego County's Access and Crisis Line at (888) 724-7240.

"Anyone struggling with a substance use or mental health issue, such as depression, anxiety, suicide, loss or anger, can call the Access and Crisis Line to speak to a representative," said Dr. Luke Bergmann, director of Behavioral Health Services at the county Health and Human Services Agency. 

"ACL clinicians are trained to respond to behavioral health-related questions and crisis situations and can provide compassionate and knowledgeable support to callers," Dr. Bergmann added. 

"You just don't see it because it is unthinkable," said Margaret Strahm, whose 19-year-old son Aaron was a student at Mesa College in Linda Vista when he took his own life in 2000. 

"It was a complete and total shock," Strahm told CBS 8.

In the 22 years since Aaron's death, Strahm has devoted her life to helping spread the word about suicide prevention, volunteering with the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program

She is optimistic that the rollout of 988 will be able to help those who are struggling.

"Anything that we can do to try to prevent [suicide], and to try to save lives," she added.

With its launch, 988 will serve as the new nationwide phone number for connecting people to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in a suicidal, mental health and/or substance use crisis, 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the United States. People can still call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Confidential and free of charge, the Access and Crisis Line offers support and resources countywide in over 200 languages from experienced counselors on all behavioral health, mental health and substance use topics, including substance use support services, crisis intervention, mobile crisis response services, suicide prevention and mental health referrals.

During the initial rollout, calls and texts made to 988 will be connected to a local crisis call center based on the phone number the call is made from and the capabilities of the call center.

According to national data, in 2020, suicide claimed the lives of more than 44,000 Americans, and evidence suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated suicidal thoughts and actions. Locally, 419 suicides were reported that same year.

Individuals in need of immediate medical attention should call 911.

WATCH RELATED: National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month & how mental health is tied to gut health (July 8, 2022)

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