Continued Importance of Suicide & Crisis Lifeline 9-8-8 Surrounding World Mental Health Day

CUSTER COUNTY—A new suicide prevention and crisis line 9-8-8 went live in July and is taking the place of the national 1-800-273-TALK lifeline. Callers have access to a trained crisis counselor 24 hours a day/7 days a week.

World Mental Health Day was on Monday, October 10. Following the Healthcare on the Square event in Broken Bow last month and its emphasis on mental health and suicide prevention, KCNI/KBBN spoke with Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) System of Care Administrator Michelle Nunemaker.

As a Nebraska expert on the subject, Nunemaker said the new easy-to-remember phone number is available for any mental health or substance abuse crisis.

“It’s really great to have this opportunity to have a crisis line that’s bigger than just suicide prevention that’s encompassing all behavioral health crisis,” Nunemaker said. “Studies have shown that the lifeline it works and it does help to save lives and it does help people.”

When 9-1-1 became active in the mid-1900s, Nunemaker said it took decades to establish. However with 9-8-8, she said it has taken only about two years to get up and running, including the planning phases with each state going through its own process to implement. Growth of community based services will continue in the months and years to come.

Boys Town is the Nebraska host for 9-8-8 with access to trained counselors. According to Nunemaker, when you call 9-8-8, you will hear an automated greeting and have the option to connect with a veteran crisis line (by pressing 1) or a Spanish speaking crisis line (by pressing 2). There is about one minute before the caller is connected to an actual trained crisis counselor. Together the caller and counselor will discuss the crisis, attempt to de-escalate the situation, come up with a safety plan, refer resources, recognize the potential to activate a mobile crisis line activation, and establish follow-up care.

Nunemaker said it is imperative to take care of each other and keep lines of communication open with friends and family.

“Signs for mental distress can look different for everyone. But some of the major signs to be aware of are just overall changes in a person’s personality. So, eating more, eating less, sleeping more, sleeping less, changes in mood, things like that. Just reaching out and checking in with someone can make a world of difference,” Nunemaker told KCNI/KBBN.

People interested in learning more about asking questions during a crisis can inquire with their local regional behavioral health authority about QPR: Question, Persuade, and Refer. CPR saves lives on the physical health side and QPR can assist someone in a crisis or who is considering suicide.

“One of the main efforts there of 9-8-8 is that it’s any kind of crisis, to help take away that stigma and be the support system for somebody who is struggling,” Nunemaker said.

For an online directory of local persons currently providing counseling services in Custer County and surrounding locations, visit (Click here to view the new website story.)

If you or someone you know is currently in a crisis situation and needs immediate help, please call the toll-free Suicide and Crisis hotline: 9-8-8.