Mental Health Hotline 988 Launches Nationwide

When in a medical emergency, you call your doctor, go to urgent care, or locate an emergency room. In the direst of straits, you may call 911. But what about when you have a mental health emergency? It’s not always clear who to call. Your doctor? The police? A hotline…but which one?   

On July 16, 2022, 988 becomes the national three-digit dialing code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for everyone in the United States. Similar to how people dial 911 when in an emergency, 988 will serve as an easy-to-access hotline for people struggling with a mental health crisis.  

Mental Health Resources at Your Fingertips 

When people call, text, or chat 988, they will be connected to the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline trained network. These trained counselors will listen, understand how their problems affect them, provide support, and connect them to resources if necessary.   

The Lifeline’s current phone number, 1-800-273-8255, will remain active after the new three-digit phone number launches and is always available to people in crisis.

Mental Health Matters

This change is in response to the global increase in such crises. Suicide rates have been steadily increasing over the past two decades, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).   

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among the ages 10 and 34 and is the fourth leading cause of death among the ages of 35 and 44, according to the NIMH.  

Nearly half a million lives (480,622) were lost to suicide from 2010 to 2020. During the same period, the suicide death rate increased by 12%, and as of 2009, the number of suicides outnumbered those caused by motor vehicle accidents.

Reimagining Crisis Response

The 988 line will allow individuals to access crisis support without involving law enforcement. This approach can empower families to self-advocate for the right level of mental health care. By avoiding unnecessary emergency room visits, which aren’t typically designed to handle mental health crises, psychological assessments and treatments can be initiated much sooner.   

911 dispatchers will also be able to re-route calls to 988, allowing law enforcement personnel to spend more time on their primary role of ensuring public safety. The 988 number will help offer a middle option for individuals who need immediate care.   

This is a critical service given current difficulties in accessing timely, in-network outpatient mental health care.