WHEELING, W. Va. (WTRF)

Starting in July, a person having a mental health crisis can just dial a three-digit number, and be connected to a mental health crisis prevention specialist.

Currently, the hotline exists, but is 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255).

Julie Gomez, executive director of NAMI Greater Wheeling, says the three-digit number will be a tremendous improvement.

“A person in the midst of a mental health crisis is more likely to be able to dial 988 than the longer number,” she said. “And the system will also allow the person to text or chat, which will appeal to younger people.”

W. Va. Gov. Jim Justice signed the bill into law today.

The mountain state became one of the first states to approve it.

“It will significantly prevent tragedies,” Gomez noted. “If a person is having thoughts of suicide or is in the midst of any other mental health crisis, they will immediately be able to speak with a trained mental health counselor. We know that 75% of these cases will be resolved with a single phone conversation.”

The federal government actually passed the  National Suicide Designation Act of 2020, but each state needs to pass the law creating the funding mechanism for the Lifeline Call Center in order  for it to go into effect.

In July, the first of three tiers will go into effect—the designation of 988 as the number to call.

Eventually two other tiers will be implemented—a mobile crisis unit can be dispatched to help the person and later they ultimately hope to have crisis stabilization and receiving centers for the patient to go to for any necessary treatment.

The calls will be answered by First Choice Services, a nonprofit agency located in Charleston.

They are already recruiting and training new staff to deal with the anticipated call volume increase.