New 988 hotline is the 911 for mental health emergencies

In this Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019, photo, a man uses a cell phone in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

Quick help for suicidal thoughts and other mental health emergencies will soon be as easy as 9-8-8.

The United States' first nationwide three-digit mental health crisis hotline goes live on Saturday. It's designed to be as easy to remember and use as 911, but instead of a dispatcher sending police, firefighters or paramedics, 988 will connect callers with trained mental health counselors.

The federal government has provided over $280 million to help states create systems that will do much more, including mobile mental health crisis teams that can be sent to people's homes and emergency mental health centers, similar to urgent care clinics that treat physical aches and pains.

"This is one of the most exciting things that has happened" in mental health care, said Dr. Brian Hepburn, a psychiatrist who heads the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors.

Hepburn