COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – 9-8-8 will soon become Ohio’s go-to number for mental health crises, all while attempting to divert care from cops to counselors.

Beginning July 16, Ohioans dealing with a mental health or substance abuse emergency can dial or text 988 to get connected with a counselor – a move aimed at expanding care while eliminating the hassle of punching in, and remembering, the 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number.

The statewide transition comes about a month after the Ohio House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill to align the Buckeye State with a federal mandate requiring phone service providers to direct 988 calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by July.

“This is just going to be eventually as ubiquitous as 911,” said Stacey Frohnapfel-Hasson, bureau chief of the Office of Prevention at the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

The move to a three-digit number, which will be funded by $20 million in federal dollars until June 2023, is not only designed to save time for Ohioans in crisis, according to Frohnapfel-Hasson, who spearheaded the 18-month process of planning and implementing the state’s 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

Amid rising drug overdoses and deaths by suicide, the 988 number could prevent law enforcement from deploying time and resources to calls that could be more effectively handled by a licensed counselor, she said.

“All of those reasons why someone might call 911 and it not being an appropriate response for someone with a mental, emotional or addiction crisis,” Frohnapfel-Hasson said.

Ohioans should call 911 for mental health and addiction emergencies, like active suicide threats or apparent drug overdoses. For a mental health and addiction crisis, call 988, according to the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

While the National Suicide Prevention Hotline recently doubled its presence in Ohio, now available to callers in all 88 counties, Frohnapfel-Hasson said 988 is just one entry point to the state’s crisis care system.

There are more than 100 help and crisis lines across Ohio, 19 of which are operated by the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. While the three-digit 988 number is easy to remember, Frohnapfel-Hasson encouraged Ohioans to seek care wherever they’re most comfortable.

“That might be a local line that’s been around for decades, or it could be a 988 line,” she said.

Summerlee Godbolt, 41, of Canal Winchester, said access to a “life-changing” crisis hotline like 988 – especially in a family tightlipped about mental health – could have halted her two suicide attempts, first at age 12 and later at age 20.

“To be able to have that number to talk to someone, I could have bypassed all the stigma that was being pressed on me by my family,” Godbolt, suicide prevention advocate and marketing director for Global Insight Productions, said.

Ohio calls to the national hotline – which currently operates 19 call centers throughout the state – jumped from about 72,000 in 2020 to about 90,000 in 2021, according to Tony Coder, executive director of the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation.

Of those callers, about 80% have crises that can be handled, at least temporarily, over the phone, meaning emergency response services or law enforcement aren’t called to respond, Coder said.

“It can be that opportunity to just let someone work out an issue they’re having or get them a little bit of hope or get them connected, instead of a police officer showing up at your door or ending up in the emergency office,” Coder said.

While the bill authorizing the transition to 988 passed in the Ohio House, it remains stalled in the Senate. Frohnapfel-Hasson said her department is moving full-steam ahead with the July 16 launch date regardless, but is hopeful the Senate will approve the bill to establish a trust fund for future 988 funding.

Godbolt said Ohioans don’t need to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder to see a counselor or call 988. One of her missions is to help Ohioans who “suffer in silence” recognize they’re not alone – and that it’s okay to ask for help, she said.

“It’s confidential, it’s free, it’s by licensed counselors, you can’t ask for a better program,” Godbolt said. “If you say, ‘I can’t afford therapy,’ that’s fine – dial 988.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741. Beginning July 16, dial or text 988.