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988 Lifeline commemorates its two year anniversary

A 988 suicide and crisis lifeline placard is displayed in a parking ramp in downtown Fargo.
D. Webster
A 988 suicide and crisis lifeline placard is displayed in a parking ramp in downtown Fargo.

North Dakota Health and Human Services is recognizing the milestone.

It’s been two years since the rollout of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline in the state. North Dakota’s Department of Health and Human Services plans to commemorate the milestone by expanding access to mental health and crisis intervention services statewide.

The hotline was officially launched on July 16, 2022. Melissa Markegard is suicide prevention administrator in the behavioral health division of HHS. She says the rollout was critical because 988 is much easier to reach to or remember than the previous hotline, which was a 1-800 number. In North Dakota, those who call 988 are connected to an intervention specialist at FirstLink. Markegard says it is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"So, if you want to talk, if you need information, if you just need someone to listen to you because you don't have someone or you can't talk about what you want to talk about with a family member or a friend - they can help you with safety planning, crisis intervention, and then they have a care and support program as well."

With the creation of 988, Markegard says those in need of assistance can either call, text or chat with a trained specialist, increasing the number of touches and opportunities to get people connected with mental health and crisis resources they may be looking for. Since its inception, the Lifeline has seen a 61 percent increase in interactions in North Dakota. Markegard says that doesn’t necessarily mean more people need the Lifeline – it could also be that more people simply know it’s available.

"If those numbers are going up, I don't know necessarily if we have more people struggling. But to me, I want to look at it as, this means more people are willing to reach out when they are struggling. You don't want to suffer alone, but sometimes you feel like, who could I possibly talk to about this? Well, 988 is there and I think the increase in those numbers says more people are becoming more comfortable talking about their struggles, and more people know about 988."

Markegard says you may see city buses wrapped with the 988 Lifeline information, as well as placards, posters and billboards as part of a campaign to get more eyes on the service. She says it’s important to know about 988 – and the more people hear about it, the more it can reach people in crisis.