RICHMOND, Va. -- Gone are the days of the seven-digit phone call around Central Virginia — 804 is now required for local calls.
Virginia is one of 35 states switching to ten-digit dialing in order to free up "988" for a new federal initiative launching next year.
"The equivalent of a 911 for individuals experiencing behavioral health, mental health crisis," Amy Erb with the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority (RBHA) said.
The plan is to have calling patched through to a local call center with trained counselors. Erb said they will help people over the phone if possible and are planning to build out the system to better assist those in need.
"We're building a system where there will be mobile crisis response available. RBHA has and is building more capacity for mobile crisis response," Erb said.
Erb says those teams are being built up for the launch of the Marcus Alert system in December, as Richmond is one of five pilot cities, and the 988 initiative will be rolled into it when it launches on July 16, 2022.
We're really hopeful this will make a huge difference," Bruce Cruser, the executive director of Mental Health America of Virginia, said.
Mental health advocates say the 988 initiative has multiple potential benefits among them an easy-to-remember number that could help reduce stigma around needing to call for help.
"Because it becomes routine, it's not like, 'Oh, I have to find out what this suicide prevention number is.' If it's a behavioral health crisis, you know, it's 988," Cruser said.
Another is that fewer mental health calls will get routed through 911 freeing up resources and potentially leading to better outcomes.
"The mobile crisis units do is still include police as co-responders but they're only co-responders, there's generally a behavioral health worker as the frontline lead," Kathy Harkey, the executive director for the National Alliance for Mental Illness of Virginia, said.
The 988 number is set to replace the current number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline which is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Even after the 988 number goes active next year on July 16, the 800 number will remain active.