New 988 suicide and crisis lifeline number saw a 30% increase in calls in Kentucky during the weekend it was launched

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

The new, easy-to-remember 988 behavioral-health crisis hotline took 220 calls on the first weekend it went live in Kentucky, according to Gov. Andy Beshear, marking a 30% increase over the former 800-272-8255 number, which still works.

“Calling or texting this number will connect Kentuckians facing risk of suicide, mental health distress and addiction crisis with compassionate and trained counselors who are ready to help,” Beshear said at a news conference. “This new number is the 911 of mental health. It is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

988 launched nationwide on July 16 and is meant to eventually replace the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’ s800 number.

“My hope [is that] some day soon it is as common as 911 and there shall be no reluctance, there shall be no shame, and there shall be no stigma in calling 988 and asking for help for mental health, substance abuse, self-harm or even suicide ideation,” said Steve Shannon, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Regional Programs, the non-profit representing the state’s 14 community mental health centers.

Beshear said Kentucky has worked for over a year to prepare for this launch, which was made possible through a number of funding sources, including a two-year $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, money allocated in the new state budget, funds from Kentucky’s mental-health block grant from the federal government and funding from Vibrant Emotional Health, the nonprofit administrator of the lifeline.

The goal is for the 988 calls made in Kentucky to go to one of the state’s 13 crisis call centers.

“It is beneficial for calls to be answered locally as often as possible because, in addition to providing emotional support and listening, counselors link individuals to other mental-health and substance-use services when that service is needed,” said Audra Hall, director of emergency services for Pennyroyal Center. “Knowing those local resources and being able to make those direct connections in the community can provide a strong safety net.”

Marcie Timmerman, director of Mental Health America-Kentucky, applauded the initial funding, but said there are plans to re-introduce legislation in the next General Assembly for a 70-cent mobile phone fee to create a sustainable funding stream for the service, similar to what is taken out for 911 services. This year’s version of that bill, House Bill 373, got one of the six required reading, but was not heard in its assigned committee.

For more information, visit the new 988 website at

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