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Artist Virginia Sitzes partnered with the 988 Mental Health Lifeline to reveal a mural at Equity Brewing in November.

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Remember ‘988’

This New Mental Health Lifeline Is Saving Oklahoma Lives

Anyone who’s struggling with a serious mental health crisis, as so many Americans are these days, needs to learn a new number: 988.

Known officially as the 988 Mental Health Lifeline, this simple, three-digit number was implemented nationally in July 2022 and replaces what was formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. (It’s also distinctly different than 911, where the focus is on dispatching emergency services, fire and police.)

In Oklahoma, calling or texting 988 puts you immediately in touch with trained behavioral health professionals, who in turn can directly connect you with the type of assistance needed in the moment, working in partnership with health care and other providers. The line is operational 24/7, and all calls are free and confidential.

Development of the 988 Lifeline was in the works prior to the COVID pandemic as a way to improve mental health care overall, said Heath Hayes, chief communications officer for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services, which coordinates the program.

In some states, it simply works as a typical crisis hotline. But in Oklahoma, the number gives callers access to a full-spectrum crisis service team, where they can be given prompt access to mental health providers and other professional assistance if needed.

In addition to thoughts of suicide and self-harm, people typically call to seek help dealing with depression, anxiety, substance abuse, coordination of care, social concerns, medications, housing concerns and domestic violence.

Many of the trained volunteers who staff the 988 Lifeline are people who have fought their own battles with mental health and substance abuse issues, making it easier to establish an empathetic connection with callers, Hayes noted. On average, Oklahoma’s 988 response team handles 3,000 calls each month.

“Ninety-two percent of the time, talking with the call center specialists is all that people need,” he said. “But when more is needed, we do what we call ‘warm handoffs,’ where we can get the caller immediately connected to the local assistance they need. We facilitate that connection right away; we don’t just give people a number to call. We make that connection for them, and then we also follow up to see how they are doing.”

In addition to the Lifeline, the ODMHSAS maintains a website,, which contains a plethora of free, downloadable educational materials targeted to different audiences.

These include “tool kits” with specialized information for health care providers, educators, veterans and the general public, as well as downloadable information sheets, posters, outreach cards and even coloring sheets. All materials are available in both English and Spanish versions.

Next year, Hayes said, the program will expand to schools and other entities around the state to raise awareness of the 988 Mental Health Lifeline and to help eradicate the lingering stigma of mental illness, which still keeps many people from seeking help.

The successful launch and operation of Oklahoma’s 988 Mental Health Lifeline would not be possible without its partnerships, chief among them Solari Crisis & Human Services.

The Arizona-based company had facilitated a similar cutting-edge crisis assistance program there, which made them a natural partner and model, Hayes said. Working with Solari also has enabled Oklahoma to go much further than most states in providing links to direct care.

Once it’s determined that a caller needs help right away, Lifeline staff members connect them with the appropriate assistance from a growing list of partners across the state whose professionals act as mobile clinic team volunteers on a 24/7 basis, Hayes said. To date, these partners include:

  • Carl Albert Community Mental Health Center
  • Central OK Community Mental Health Center
  • Community Bridges, Inc
  • Family and Children’s Services
  • GRAND Mental Health
  • Green Country Behavioral Health
  • Hope Community Services
  • Jim Taliaferro Community Mental Health
  • Lighthouse Behavioral Health
  • NorthCare
  • Northwest Center for Behavioral Health
  • Red Rock Behavioral Health

“Most states are only doing the minimal at this point, but we have had very strong support from the Legislature and the governor, and this has let us make a ‘Cadillac version’ of the 988 Mental Health Lifeline,” Hayes said.

“We see this as one of the touchpoints in a robust mental health system.

“For me personally, this is my passion and my mission, to be part of a system that can do so much good,” he added.

“Oftentimes we don’t get to celebrate Oklahoma’s successes, especially in health care, but here we are building a model for other states, and it’s very exciting to be a part of it.”

  • Artist Virginia Sitzes partnered with the 988 Mental Health Lifeline to reveal a mural at Equity Brewing in November.
  • In November, the 988 Mental Health Lifeline partnered with Equity Brewing in Norman to hold a mural and beer release party.