MINNEAPOLIS — It's been almost one week since Minnesota joined other states across the country with the 988 mental health crisis lifeline – and the Minnesota Department of Health says they've already seen an increase in calls reported.
The new 3-digit code streamlining access to mental health support has been active since July 16.
It's part of a nationwide effort to transition to a number easier to access and remember in times of crisis.
"I think dialing 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) is a great choice, but it's a really hard number to call if you're having panic attacks, depressed, thinking of suicide," said Jennifer Illich.
According to the MN Dept. of Health's Suicide Prevention Coordinator, the state set aside $1.3 million to support the hotlines routed throughout MN and Fargo, North Dakota — where you can find Jennifer Illich, the Executive Director with FirstLink.
"We are a non-profit agency. We are located in Fargo, ND and we answer the 988 for all of North Dakota and for 17 counties on the Minnesota side," said Illich.
Illich says so far, they've seen an increase in calls.
"I've heard it from our call specialist who answers the lines, and she says the calls are ringing off the hook. Some people are just calling to test out the number," she said.
As far as staffing to meet those needs, Illich says similar to many places dealing with the effects of staffing shortages, it's been difficult.
"We are really watching our staff numbers, we have some new staff on board, and we are posting right now to hire new staff," she said. "It's a lot of training to answer the phone, so we always have that lapse of time before we can get them on the phones."
When it comes to the long term, Illich says she's hopeful with the new, shorter number, people can get the help they need faster.
"I hope they'll call sooner even before they're thinking about suicide," she said.
Carver County Health and Human Services officials told KARE 11 they've seen "no significant increase in calls since the 988 rollout and say they didn't add staffing in that area."
While anyone is encouraged to call during a mental health crisis, health officials are urging anyone who needs immediate medical assistance to call 911.
For more information on the 988 hotline, visit the link here.
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