July 15, 2022

988 Crisis Number to Launch Nationwide

Starting July 16, people in mental health crisis will have a new way to reach out for help. Instead of dialing the current 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, they can simply call or text the numbers 9-8-8.

Modeled after 911, the new 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is designed to be a memorable and quick number that connects people who are suicidal or in any other mental health crisis to a trained mental health professional.

"If you are willing to turn to someone in your moment of crisis, 988 will be there," said Xavier Becerra, the secretary of health and human services, at a recent press briefing. "988 won't be a busy signal, and 988 won't put you on hold. You will get help."

Here is what you need to know about the new number and what to expect once it launches.

988 fills a big gap in mental health crisis care

Currently, most people experiencing a mental health emergency end up dialing 911.

The problem is that 911 wasn't set up to address mental health needs. Either callers end up in a frenetic emergency room, waiting for hours and sometimes days to get care, or they end up interacting with law enforcement, which can lead to tragedy or trauma.

Mental health advocates hope that 988 will become a widely known, safer and more effective alternative - one that connects people to the help they need more quickly and directly.

The goal of the effort behind 988 is to ultimately reduce confrontations with law enforcement and connect people in crisis to help right away. It's part of a longer-term effort to ramp up mental emergency response teams around the country.

988 connects callers to a network of trained counselors

The 988 lifeline will connect people to the existing network of more than 200 local crisis call centers around the country. (The 10-digit suicide prevention number — 1-800-273-8255 — will remain active, but calls will be routed to 988 once that three-digit number launches.)

People who call or text the number will be connected to a trained counselor at a crisis center closest to them. If a local crisis center is too busy to respond right away, the call gets routed to one of 16 backup centers around the country.

For the vast majority of people who call the current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the call itself is an effective intervention.

"We know that close to 90% of people who call get what they need from the phone call," says Chuck Ingoglia, CEO of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing.

The remaining 10% of callers may need additional support or in-person care, and trained counselors at the lifeline will try to connect them to that care.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide or is in crisis, you’re not alone. Here are some helplines and resources for support.

  • Call the new 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.
  • Text HOME to the Crisis Textline at 741741.
  • The Trevor Project provides crisis support for LGBTQIA+ individuals. Call their hotline at 866-488-7386 or text START to 678-678.
  • If you’re at immediate risk: Reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or healthcare professional. Consider calling 988 or your local emergency number if you can’t get in touch with them.

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