POUGHKEEPSIE – Saturday, July 16, marked the national launch of 9-8-8, an easy-to access mental health hotline that connects people experiencing a mental health crisis to National Suicide Prevention Lifeline call centers, including the call center in Dutchess County, where they can talk or text with trained mental health professionals who can help them. While the 9-8-8 hotline is a new service in many areas of the state and the nation, Dutchess County has provided a professional mental health crisis line, its HELPLINE, for decades. Due to that experience, Dutchess County’s HELPLINE serves as one of the current 13 regional call centers throughout New York State and cover calls for Dutchess County and surrounding areas, including Ulster and Sullivan counties. The 24/7 HELPLINE is now accessible by dialing 9-8-8.
County Executive Molinaro said, “Mental wellness affects everyone, and help must be accessible for all. 9-8-8 is off to a successful start in Dutchess County thanks to the over a decade of hard work and preparation by our Department of Behavioral and Community Health and our already established and accomplished 24/7 critical mental health services. I am proud that our county is leading this project for our residents, as well as those in Sullivan and Ulster counties. Our mental health professionals and 9-8-8 help save lives, and help residents in need throughout our region, state, and nation.”
The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020 established 9-8-8 as the universal telephone number for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline. The simple three-digit number is more easily remembered and more likely to be utilized in a crisis, as individuals are more likely to struggle with information recall during times of emotional distress. 9-8-8 directly connects callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL), routing them to a regional call center based on the caller’s area code. Locally, 9-8-8 connects to Dutchess County’s HELPLINE team, which serves as the regional NSPL call center. Calls and texts are answered locally by crisis counselors who are well trained and experienced in responding to a wide range of mental health, substance use and suicidal crises. They can connect people to local services, including dispatching Dutchess County’s Mobile Crisis Intervention team, or direct people to the County’s 24/7 Stabilization Center and other treatment options.
The Dutchess County Department of Behavioral & Community Health (DBCH) and the Department of Emergency Response have worked closely with the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH) over the last 18 months in preparation for the transition to 9-8-8. The HELPLINE team has become accredited by the American Association for Suicidology, and New York State is providing funding to ensure the successful launch, including funding for additional four crisis counselor positions in anticipation of changes and larger call volume will come with 9-8-8. These new positions were recently approved by the Dutchess County Legislature at its July board meeting. Additionally, the County has been working closely with representatives from Ulster and Sullivan counties to understand each county’s respective resources and services to best refer those residents to local resources for the help they need.
Deputy DBCH Commissioner and Director of Community Services Jean-Marie Niebuhr said, “Our mission is to always provide accessible suicide prevention and mental health services to members of our community. This is something we take seriously, which is why we are honored to be the regional hub for the 9-8-8 crisis line, making it easier to provide these services. Our trained and professional staff have taken on the steady and increasing call volume in a seamless manner. They continue to help people locally and now take calls from new places, some as far as the west coast. With current events and maneuvering life during a pandemic, its crucial to launch an initiative like 9-8-8. We feel this is a vital service, and we are thrilled to be able to provide it to those in need.”
Dutchess County has long been a leader in mental health services, including suicide prevention and substance use disorder. The 24/7 HELPLINE was established decades ago and serves thousands of callers each year, including the calls from the New York State Bridge Authority’s suicide prevention call boxes, which were originally installed by Dutchess County and were first in the nation to be available at a known suicide site and connected to a mental health agency. The original callbox now resides in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
Dutchess County has continued expanded its 24/7 crisis services under the Molinaro administration with the creation of the Mobile Crisis Intervention Team in 2012 and the opening the 24/7 Stabilization Center, the first facility of its kind in New York State, in 2017. The Stabilization Center has become a model for other counties throughout the Hudson Valley and state to replicate, including Ulster County, which hopes to open a Crisis Stabilization Center in the near future. Other mental health services offered by Dutchess County include Mental Health First Aid, recovery coaches and other services for those dealing with mental health disorders or thoughts of suicide or who are struggle with substance use disorder.
Residents can now dial 9-8-8 to be connected to HELPLINE or continue to use current contact methods including calling or texting 845-485-9700 or going through Dutchess County HELPLINE App.
For more information on mental health services in Dutchess County visit: