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The number to call is 988.

A conversation with the living, a trained voice to defuse a crisis and therefore reduce the number of tragic outcomes, is now accessible through a new national crisis line that went live recently.

We hear a lot these days about mental health, most often tied to news reports in which someone has ended up dead. But mental health isn’t a topic that should be limited to a post mortem discussion; it’s a very alive reality we must all face in one way or another, sometimes daily.

A conversation with the living, a trained voice to defuse a crisis and therefore reduce the number of tragic outcomes, is now accessible through a new national crisis line that went live Saturday.

The number to call is 9-8-8.

Perhaps someone in your family struggles with depression, or post traumatic stress disorder — which, by the way, is not something exclusively experienced by veterans of war. Domestic violence and assault victims also can experience PTSD. Did you know loud noises can trigger PTSD crises? For some, it is fireworks; for others, it can be someone yelling or a dog barking.

The number to call is 9-8-8.

Say you have a family member struggling with substance abuse. You know the ones: They attempt to wipe away their troubles with a pill or a bottle, but only succeed in exacerbating their troubles.

The number for them to call is 9-8-8.

Some of you may remember that there was a time when 911 was not universally available. Today, it is nearly a part of our DNA to know that number links us to emergency help.

Now, if we need emergency mental health help, the number to call is 9-8-8.

This is the United States’ first nationwide three-digit mental health crisis hotline. It connects with an existing network. The federal government has provided more than $280 million to help states create systems that will do much more, including mobile mental health crisis teams that can be sent to people’s homes and emergency mental health centers, similar to urgent care clinics that treat physical aches and pains, according to the Associated Press.

“This is one of the most exciting things that has happened” in mental health care, said Dr. Brian Hepburn, a psychiatrist who heads the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors.

“If we can get 988 to work like 911 … lives will be saved,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.

Iowa’s suicide rate has increased each year since 2000, with the most Iowans — 536 — dying by suicide in 2020, up from 286 deaths in 2000, according to Iowa Department of Public Health data.

If you are considering harming yourself, or someone else, 988 is the number to call.

Will it solve everything? Nothing can do that.

But it will help.

The 988 system “is a real opportunity to do things right,” said Hannah Wesolowski of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Let’s give it a chance.

Jane Curtis is interim editor of the Daily Freeman-Journal.

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