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Dial 988: Maine mental health crisis workers will soon be available at a new national hotline

For anyone having a mental health crisis, help will soon be just three telephone digits away. Beginning Saturday, July 16, Maine, and the rest of the country, will enable 988 as a new number to reach mental health hotlines.

People having suicidal thoughts or other mental health worries and loved ones of people in crisis, will be able to call, or text 988 to reach a trained crisis counselor.

Sara Squirrell, acting director of the Office of Behavioral Health in the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, says launching 988 will be "a new era of a more accessible front door for crisis services."

Squirrel hopes the new number will avoid people calling 911, sometimes prompting a response from police, rather than a trained mental health professional.

States have been told there could be a 10% increase in calls from the easier-to-use 988 system. Squirrell says Maine is preparing for that by hiring six more employees to bring the number of call center staff up to 31.