CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — A service that mental health advocates have pushed for decades is now here.

On Friday, an organization in Charleston, West Virginia, announced the launch of a three-digit number for people dealing with a mental health crisis or suicidal thoughts.

(WOWK 13 News file/Reporter Nicky Walters)

“It is great that something like this started,” said Cortney Smith. “It could save lives.”

Smith is a suicide attempt survivor. Now, she works at First Choice Services offering help to people in their time of need.

Smith said hearing a compassionate voice on the other end of the line could make all the difference for someone in crisis.

“It is really crazy when you feel that there is just no hope, and you feel there is no other way to kind of go on,” Smith said. “So, sometimes people just listening is what you need to start healing.”

On Saturday, the first nationwide three-digit mental health crisis hotline will go live.

The number 988 is intended to be catchy and easy to remember, similar to 911. But instead of transferring callers to emergency dispatchers, it will connect people with a more specific kind of mental health help.

“That’s one thing that we love about 988 is that it is putting the focus on behavioral health professionals to do this work and moving it off of law enforcement officers and our 911 communicators,” said First Choice Services CEO Lata Menon.

Earlier in 2022, West Virginia lawmakers passed SB 181 with a commitment from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources to fund the lifeline call center.

“We take a lot of time hearing what is happening to someone, understanding why they are feeling the way that they feel,” Menon said. “Over the course of a conversation, often a very long one, we help people sort through these thoughts and confusion, and we are able to help them sort through reasons they have to be here.”

It is a lifeline that Smith is hoping people will reach for in their time of need.

“There’s hope. Don’t give up. There’s so many resources. There’s so many people and places that can help. There is hope. Just don’t give up,” she said.

First Choice Services is currently hiring people to help answer and respond to those calls.