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Maryland’s mental health hotline 988, now taking calls

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Bethany Raja
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Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott

There’s a new mental health and suicide prevention hotline which connects callers in both Baltimore city and county alongside Howard and Carroll counties to supportive ears.

The new phone number — 988 — will automatically route any callers to the old 211 number and it is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The goal is for regional call center workers to help those with mental health crises and offer a better path than sending out police to the scene.

Before the 911 diversion plan, the city would get more than 13,000 calls each year related to behavioral and mental health issues, said Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott.

Likewise in Baltimore County, there were 12,000 calls to 911 for behavioral health issues in 2020, said Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski.

Scott said integrating the call centers was a huge step in the right direction by removing police from the situation which increases stressful situations and overburdens emergency departments.

“While 911 is intended for police, fire or rescue emergencies, 988 is designed to address urgent behavioral and mental health needs,” he said.

Scott said leaders across the country are realizing that calls for those experiencing a mental health crisis are more appropriately handled by trained mental health professionals rather than police and emergency departments already strained for resources.

“This is an unsustainable approach, especially at a time when mental health challenges are on the rise across the country,” he said.

Olszewski said they’ve known for years that helplines can help save lives, and when people are experiencing a mental or behavioral health crisis connecting with a live person is critically important. And the isolation and anxiety fueled by the pandemic has exasperated existing public health challenges.

“People can just simply call 988. No need to look up a local number, or Google on how to find help. Just call 988 any time of the day, any day of the week and you’ll be in contact with someone who can help,” Olszewski said.

Bethany Raja is WYPR's City Hall Reporter
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