Starting Saturday, Maine, along with the rest of the country, will have access to the 988 Mental Health Crisis Line — a three-digit number allowing anyone to call, text, or chat with a trained mental health professional.

There are mental health crisis line call centers in Augusta, Caribou and South Portland that require callers to use dedicated phone numbers.

The nationwide 988 number is seen as a major triumph for efforts to end the stigma of mental illness. Similar to the implementation of the 911 line in 1968, the number, mental health advocates say, provides an opportunity to not only help people in crisis but provide a systemic response available everywhere.

Greg Marley is senior clinical director of suicide prevention for NAMI Maine, part of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “One of the best strategies to acknowledge is that at some point everyone needs some type of consultant,” he said. “In a way, that normalizes the reality that at some point, everyone struggles. This will make it so that people are comfortable finding and speaking with consultants about their issues.”

Amber Kruk, director of communications and development for Crisis and Counseling Centers in Maine, said, “Carrying around a 10-digit number is unlikely unless it is programmed in your cellphone. So imagine being distressed and in a crisis and trying to remember or find the numbers to call. 988 is simple. It will connect someone in crisis to the care they need immediately.”

Kruk noted, “Since the pandemic’s onset, Mainers have experienced firsthand how isolation and collective trauma can negatively impact someone’s mental health. As a result, Mainers found us and connected. We saw a 104% increase in youth contacting our crisis team for support from 2019 to 2021.”


Maine officials expect the number of calls to keep rising with the advent of 988. For that reason, an additional $450,000 will be provided to hire five new staff members for the call centers, according Kruk.

Officials of the 988 system said one key benefit is that by providing direct access to mental health support, there is an alternative to the emergency 911 system, which many people are hesitant to use for a mental health issue.

In an interview with USA TODAY, Tonja Myles, a mental health specialist, said, “Law enforcement does a great job with what they do, but they’re not psychiatrists. They’re not social workers. They’re not peer-support specialists.”

Despite that, law enforcement officials are often the ones who handle mental health crises. Maine’s Deadly Force Review Panel, which studied 10 different encounters with police, found nine of the individuals were in a mental health crisis and/or suicidal. Most were also under the influence of substances.

“A lot of times when people hear 911, they start to think, ‘Yeah, I’m in crisis, but am I also in trouble?'”  Myles said.

Under the 988 system, staff will work with emergency services to dispatch mobile crisis teams in emergency situations when needed.

Leaders of 988 say staff are trained to be aware of the specific needs of callers in order to have the best outcomes and reach out to at-risk groups, including minorities, youth, rural populations, LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities.

States will have the authority to implement a fee similar to current 911 fees. The generated fees will be used to supplement funding for resources and materials.

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