MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – Whether they’re thoughts of suicide or issues with substance use, 988 are now the digits to know in times of need.

The new Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is up and running as of Friday, ahead of the official launch on Saturday, according to Karen Timberlake, secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

“We need to help those in mental health crises. We need to prevent death by suicide by breaking down barriers and improving resources and services that are available and making them very easily accessible,” U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) said Friday. She introduced the legislation that became law in 2020, creating the 988 lifeline.

The office of Governor Tony Evers said last year, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline answered about 29,000 calls from Wisconsin.

The transition from the 10-digit lifeline (800-273-8255) would make the number for help easier to remember; however, officials said the old number will still be available if dialed.

People can call or text 988 for free, confidential service from trained crisis counselors 24/7. They can also chat at 988lifeline.org.

In Wisconsin, 988 callers will be routed to the Wisconsin Lifeline, funded by the DHS and operated at the Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin, based in Green Bay.

“Most of the time people are offered that immediate counseling and de-escalation support and service,” Timberlake said. “Sometimes they’re offered a follow-up call. Sometimes in a more acute emergency, there may be a need to reach out to other kinds of resources. But the bottom line is the first step is to make that call.”

That call is critical, as Tanya Kraege said. She is often on the “other end of the line” in her job at a Madison-area crisis center. She is also a team manager at Safe Communities, a nonprofit tackling issues like drug poisoning and suicide prevention.

“They’re oftentimes more likely to reach out to a stranger, to somebody that they don’t know and say, ‘Here’s what’s going on,’” Kraege said. “Then that person on the other end of the line can remind them that they are worthy.”

Kraege also lost her brother to suicide 18 years ago, she said.

“I firmly believe that if my brother had shared that he was struggling, maybe things could have turned out differently for him,” she said.

The lifeline took 3.6 million calls, chats and texts from Americans last year, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

That number is expected to at least double in the next year once 988 takes effect, the FCC said.

Sen. Baldwin said reasons for the expected increase in use include publicity and loved ones being able to call on behalf of those who need help.

“Certainly we all hope and pray and expect that it is going to save lives,” she said.

Veterans will also have the option to call 988 and then press 1 to access the Veterans Crisis Line.

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