In 2020, Congress designated the new 988 dialing code to operate through the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s (1-800-273-8255) network of over 200 locally operated and funded crisis centers across the country.
On July 16, 2022, the U.S. will transition to using the 988-dialing code, and it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to strengthen and expand the existing Lifeline.
988 is more than just an easy-to-remember number—it’s a direct connection to compassionate, accessible care and support for anyone experiencing mental health-related distress – whether that is thoughts of suicide, mental health or substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress. People can also dial 988 if they are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support.
The 988 dialing code is just a first step toward strengthening and transforming crisis care in this country. It serves as a universal entry point so that no matter where you live, you can reach a trained crisis counselor who can help.
Over time, the vision for 988 is to have additional crisis services available in communities across the nation, much the way emergency medical services work.
Need for 988
Too many people are experiencing suicidal crisis or mental health-related distress without the support and care they need, and sadly, the pandemic has only made a bad situation worse when it comes to mental health and wellness in America.
There are urgent realities driving the need for crisis service transformation across our country. In 2020 alone, the U.S. had one death by suicide about every 11 minutes—and for people aged 10 – 34 years, suicide is a leading cause of death. Additionally, from April 2020 to 2021, over 100,000 individuals died from drug overdoses.
There is hope. The Lifeline works -- providing 24/7, free and confidential support to people in suicidal crisis or mental health-related distress helps thousands of people overcome crisis situations every day.
Vision for 988
While this is an exciting time to reimagine how we provide crisis services in the U.S., the full vision of a transformed crisis care system with 988 at its core will not be built overnight. Transformation of this scale will take time, and we must all work together to make it happen.
It will require continued collaboration, commitment, and support to make it effective, appropriate, and sustainable –both from the public and private sectors.
In the short-term, we are looking to strengthen and expand the current Lifeline crisis center infrastructure and capacity to ensure trained crisis counselors are available to quickly respond to 988 via call (multiple languages), text or chat (English only).
In the longer term, our vision is to build a robust crisis care response system across the country that links callers to community-based providers who can deliver a full range of crisis care services, if needed (like mobile crisis teams or stabilization centers). This more robust system will be essential to meeting crisis care needs across the nation. We envision a day when everyone across our country has someone to call, someone to respond, and a safe place to go for crisis care.
About the Lifeline
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is funded by SAMHSA and has been administered by Vibrant Emotional Health since it began in 2005.
The Lifeline is a national network of over 200 local, independent crisis centers equipped to help people in mental health related distress or experiencing a suicidal crisis via call, chat, or text. The Lifeline provides free and confidential support to people in suicidal crisis or mental health-related distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, across the U.S.
Numerous studies have shown that the Lifeline works—most callers are significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful after speaking to a Lifeline crisis counselor.
Lifeline crisis counselors are an essential element of our crisis care system to save lives. This network has been massively underfunded and under-resourced. This patchwork of local, state, and private funding for the network has fallen way short of meeting the need. That's why, in anticipation of the expected increase in volume of 988, it’s crucial that we shore up the infrastructure of the Lifeline and support the local crisis centers.