HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) - “988" is the new three-digit call code for the suicide and crisis lifeline which serves as a direct link for suicide prevention and crisis support. Today, state officials are making sure everyone is aware of the new number.

"Now that we have this easier to remember number to connect to help, we can all play a role in letting people know that their lives are important and no matter what they're going through, the first step to getting help that they deserve is a call or a text away,” said Meg Snead, Acting Secretary of the PA Department of Human Service (DHS). “The changeover to the shorter, quicker to remember 988 makes life saving suicide prevention and crisis response support easier to reach than ever,” Snead added. 

Both the new three-digit and the previous ten-digit national suicide prevention lifeline will be directed to the same thirteen crisis response centers throughout the commonwealth. The lifeline provides callers with certified crisis professionals 24/7. 

“998 will connect people who are experiencing a mental health crisis or considering suicide to trained, compassionate crisis response professionals who can talk through their situation over the phone, deploy mental health crisis teams to assist a person if they're available in the caller's area, or connect the caller to additional local resources,” said Snead. 

988 went live on Saturday around the country. Now, four days later, officials are making sure all Pennsylvanians are aware of the new and improved way to connect to behavioral or mental health crisis services. 

“Please share this resource. And if you're worried about someone you know, don't be afraid to call or text 988 yourself. Our actions can have a powerful impact that can be a catalyst to helping someone who needs extra help to get the care, treatment and support that they deserve. This outreach can save lives,” said Snead. 

DHS says Pennsylvania callers are answered at a rate of about 85-percent, which is actually one of the best in-state answer rates in the country. 

“Presently, 988 does not have geolocation services. Through the years we’ve always been able to work with callers around doing the best that we can to get their location when those emergency services are needed,” said Kristen Houser, Deputy Secretary for the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. “However, we also know that between 80 and 90-percent of callers get their needs met from that communication with the counselor on the phone. So, the location is not what is most important, it's getting the support that a person needs,” Houser added. 

Houser says crisis professionals are able to meet the needs of callers in the vast majority of instances. That’s why she says it’s crucial to get that answer-rate even higher. The goal is 90-percent within the first year of 988 being active. 

“The Pennsylvania call centers are able to connect callers to local mental health, substance use and other behavioral health resources provided by counties. They're able to connect with mobile mental health teams across Pennsylvania, if an in-person response is deemed necessary,” said Houser. “988 is really more than just a phone number. It's really a gateway to reach a continuum of crisis services. People need someone to talk to, but they also may need someone to respond to them in person, and somewhere to go,” Houser added. 

For the Department of Health, mental health is just as important as physical health. During Black Maternal Mental Health Week, Acting Health Secretary Dr. Denise Johnson says it’s especially important to talk about maternal health and well-being among Black mothers. 

“I’m an OB-GYN physician and I spent the large part of my career caring for individuals at vulnerable times in their lives, and that includes before, during and after pregnancy,” said Acting Health Secretary Dr. Denise Johnson. “And I know that this vulnerable time can cause lots of stress and need for resources,” said Johnson. “In Pennsylvania, the maternal mortality rates are really astonishing. It's estimated that about 82 individuals out of 100,000 live births lose their lives during pregnancy or around that time. But for black individuals or people of color, that rate is twice as high. It's 163 per 100,000 births. We can and must do better,” Johnson added. 

988 can also connect people with specialized services, like the veterans’ crisis line, or assistance in Spanish. 

“Mental health is health. Continuing to build a robust network of supportive resources and easing barriers to these resources is an important part of this work. But we all must continue to do what we can to foster more open, compassionate dialogs around mental health crisis and suicide,” said Snead.