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Gov. Andy Beshear joins mental health advocates for state’s official launch of new 988 suicide lifeline

By Jack Brammer
NKyTribune reporter

Gov. Andy Beshear and several mental health advocates launched a new mental health hotline Monday that he said will “help Kentuckians in some of their darkest moments.”

At a Capitol news conference in Frankfort, Beshear said an easy-to-remember, three-digit, mental health crisis hotline – 988 – became available Saturday and already has handled 220 calls, an increase of about 30 percent for that time period.

The 988 number is designed to connect Kentuckians facing thoughts of suicide, mental health distress or an addition with compassionate trained counselors who can help. It operates similar to the 911 number for emergencies.

The new mental health hotline operates around the clock and is available for Kentuckians who are concerned about a loved one who may need crisis support.

It is a departure from the 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 800-273-8256, which will remain available during the changeover to 988, the new national dialing code.

Kentucky has 13 call centers to answer calls to the new line.

Beshear called the new number “the 911 of mental health.”

Funding for the new number comes from several sources. Congress appropriated funds to create it in 2020, the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration awarded Kentucky $9.5 million in grants and the state legislature this year appropriated $6.17 million this year and $13.4 million next year to support additional mobile answer centers and implementation of the new number.

Marcie Timmerman, executive director of Mental Health America-Kentucky, said there are plans to re-introduce legislation in next year’s General Assembly to implement a 70-cent mobile phone fee to set up a sustainable funding stream for the service. She said that would be similar to what is generated for 911 services.

A version of the legislation was introduced in this year’s General Assembly but it was not heard in committee. It was House Bill 373, sponsored by Rep. Kim Banta, R-Fort Mitchell.

Mental health advocates, in addition to Timmerman, joining Beshear at Monday’s news conference were Audra Hall, coordinator of emergency services at Pennyroyal Center; Steve Shannon, executive director of Kentucky Association of Regional Programs; and Carol Cecil, executive director of Kentucky Partnership for Families and Children; and Geneva Robinson with Seven Counties Services in Louisville.

Hall said suicide is the second leading cause of death in Kentucky for those between 10 and 34 years of age and Robinson said 4,000 Americans die each year of suicide. Shannon emphasized that ­­988 is a national number but a local response and Cecil said people must realize that ­“it’s OK not to be OK.”

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