The new 988 mental health crisis hotline is up and running in Maine, state officials announced Monday.

The nationwide service, which provides help to those who are suicidal or having a mental health crisis, was put in operation on Saturday, meeting a federal target date for the new system, state officials said.

The hotline can be accessed by dialing 988 and is intended to be an easy-to-remember, nationwide system, similar to the 911 system for police or emergency medical help.

It is available via calls, chats or texts and is designed to provide help to those who are feeling suicidal or in a mental health or substance abuse crisis. Callers are connected to trained counselors who provide someone to talk to and connections to services that can provide help.

The service began operating after a year of preparation by the state Department of Health and Human Services and organizations focused on mental health and substance abuse issues. The federal government set July 16 as the date for implementation of the new system, although not all states were able to meet that target date.

In addition to those experiencing problems, 988 is also available to individuals worried about loved ones who they feel may need crisis support.

Nationally, 988 calls are routed to the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and in Maine they go to the Maine Crisis Line, which has been in operation since 2018 and is administered by the state and managed by The Opportunity Alliance of South Portland.

Mainers who call 988 will be routed through the Lifeline network and connected to a trained crisis specialist with the Maine Crisis Line. Those specialists provide therapeutic support and assessment and connections with community-based resources, such as one of the state’s regional mobile crisis teams.

“The 988 Lifeline represents a new, easily accessible front door for Maine’s statewide crisis services,” Jeanne Lambrew, DHHS Commissioner, said.

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