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988 to become the three-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline this weekend

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A new, easy-to-remember three-digit phone number is coming on line this weekend for people experiencing suicidal thoughts, facing a mental-health crisis, or for those worried about a friend or loved one.

Just like how people call 911 when their house is on fire — and don’t need to look up the phone number on their kitchen wall — people will now be able to call 988 and get connected to the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The new three-digit code will take effect on Saturday.

“Any time someone can reach the help they need faster and easier, my expectation is it will save lives,” Kathy Marchi, CEO and president of Boston-based Samaritans, told the Herald this week.

“988 will save lives because it will be easier for people to remember when they’re facing a mental-health crisis,” she added. “It will make it easier for people to find the right resources pretty quickly.”

Starting on Saturday, people who call or text 988 will be connected with trained counselors from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network. Counselors will listen, understand how the caller’s problems are affecting them, provide support and connect them to resources if necessary.

Massachusetts health officials have been working with partner organizations, including Samaritans, and healthcare providers on the transition from the current 10-digit number (1-800-273-8255) to 988.

The easier-to-remember number will expand access for callers, resulting in centers hiring more staff and volunteers.

“We’ve come a long way,” Marchi said of getting ready for the transition. “We’re all feeling like we’re in a much better place than we were 6 months ago.”

The new phone line will be accessible 24/7 by call or text.

Moving to 988 does not mean the current 800 number (1-800-273-8255) for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline goes away. Dialing either number will route callers to the same services, no matter which number they use.

Online chat is also available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s website: suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat.

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