Get the 411 on 988 by listening to this interview with Casey Muckler of the Missouri Department of Mental Health (33:21):

Beginning Saturday, Missourians can dial or text 988 or chat virtually if they are in crisis. The national 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a 24/7 system designed to better respond to people in crisis and get them the appropriate help as soon as possible.

The hope is that the approach will also take some pressure off law enforcement and hospitals in some instances. The system includes someone to talk, a team on the ground to respond, and behavioral health crisis centers across the state for people to go to for help.

Casey Muckler, with the state Department of Mental Health, is in charge of Missouri’s launch.

“We’re working to really integrate them all together so that no Missourians fall through the cracks and there’s a warm hand off, whether a person is at the level of care that they need or not so that we get them connected to wherever they need to be,” said Muckler. “We want to make sure that we can widen access for all and connect individuals in crisis with a trained mental health professional that can work with them to address their immediate needs, create a safety plan or a crisis plan with that person to figure out what the best possible option is going to be for keeping them safe, and then connecting them to ongoing resources in order to hopefully prevent future crises.”

Missouri has ten behavioral health crisis centers – in the Kansas City area, Springfield, the St. Louis region, Joplin, Jefferson City, Ft. Leonard Wood and Hannibal – and eight more on the way.

Muckler said law enforcement will have the opportunity to drop people off at a behavioral health crisis center – and then be on their way.

“Not have to spend a lot of time staying at the hospital filling out paperwork, working with medical health care professionals. They will be able to simply come have their own drop off location,” she said.

Muckler said the state is developing a plan to ensure the safety of its response team workers.

“For safety measures we are talking about and working on creating a comprehensive training curriculum that will include several modules on safety in the community, how to keep yourself safe, what measures to take to ensure that you remain safe and your team remains safe in the community. If you don’t feel safe, there are measures that they can take. We are also working to establish GPS tracking of mobile crisis response teams that are responding to individuals in the community,” said Muckler. “We know that there are going to be situations in which avoiding law enforcement is not going to be possible, where there are definitely times when law enforcement is going to have to take the lead and mobile crisis teams will be there as a supportive entity. And then there are times when mobile crisis teams will be taking the lead and law enforcement may be on standby somewhere nearby. But there are also times when our mobile crisis teams can go out into the community without any law enforcement connection. So it really depends on the situation, and what is going to be the best type of response for that person.”

Should you call 988 or 911?

“We know that there are times when it’s really going to depend on the situation, but if a person is at imminent risk of suicide or harm, we always want to make sure that emergency services are dispatched, so we can keep that person safe,” said Muckler.

One of the kinks waiting to be worked out is calls are routed to the nearest center based on your phone’s area code.

“If you do have an area code that’s not where you’re currently living, our crisis specialists work with that person to determine where they’re located and then we try to find the closest crisis center to where they’re currently located and connect them that way,” she said.

Muckler said she hopes the FCC will approve the access of geographic location data to straighten out that kink.

The effort has been a large undertaking. She said a task force made up of law enforcement, mental health providers, and several organizations has been teaming up to drive this effort.

“The reason we are so ready for the 988 rollout in Missouri is because we really brought all of those people to the table early on so we really focused on making sure that we have all the collaboration and coordination we need,” said Muckler.

The traditional national suicide hotline is 1-800-273-TALK. Muckler said that number will still be around, just in case users have that number on speed dial or memorized. The same infrastructure is used as the new 988 line.

She said while the national suicide prevention hotline has been important, it has only had the scope of suicide prevention.

“With 988, we are driving a larger transformative service for anybody experiencing any type of crisis, not just for suicides, but also for any type of mental health or substance use crisis that someone might be experiencing,” said Muckler.

You can call or text 988 or chat virtually by going to

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