The three most important numbers for someone in danger of suicide or experiencing emotional distress are now 988.
Dialing those three digits from any phone in the country will connect the caller to the new 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. The 24/7 service, modeled after the national 911 network, went live July 16.
A Quick Connection to Qualified Help
People who call, text or chat 988 are routed to the center closest to them from one of over 200 local, independent and state-funded crisis centers. If the counselors at the nearest crisis center are all busy, calls are automatically redirected to one of 16 back-up centers around the country.
While most 911 calls are answered by first responder or law enforcement dispatchers, calls to 988 are answered by trained mental health counselors. These professionals are equipped to listen, understand how the callers’ problems are affecting them, provide support and connect them to local resources.
Support for Expanded Services
The 988 Lifeline is a simplification of the 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which has been in place since 2005. The original number, 1-800-273-8255, will remain in service, but calls to it will be automatically routed to the 988 network, which also connects to the existing Veterans Crisis Line.
Legislation for expanded nationwide network received bipartisan Congressional support and was signed into law by then-President Donald Trump in 2020. The Biden Administration has worked to increase funding for 988 as part of a larger effort to expand access to mental health care.
The federal government also authorized states to generate funds for state centers by permitting the addition of a nominal fee to phone bills. To date, less than half of states have taken up legislation, fewer have passed it. Generating more state support is critical to appropriately resourcing this lifesaving network.
Mental Health Crisis
The cross-government effort came together at a crucial point. Millions of people contemplate or plan a suicide attempt every year with someone taking their own life every 11 minutes.
And the crisis isn’t affecting just adults. Suicide rates are rising among young people. In fact, suicide is now the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-14 and 25-34.
With America’s mental health care crisis exacerbated by the prolonged pandemic, the 988 Lifeline provides an historic opportunity for meeting the ever-growing mental health care needs of Americans. States would be wise to ensure sustainable funding so residents, regardless of location, have timely access to the 988 Lifeline.