988 Mental Health Hotline Sees Increased Calls Following Rollout

Taylor Leamey Senior Writer
Taylor Leamey writes about all things wellness, specializing in mental health, sleep and nutrition coverage. She has invested hundreds of hours into studying and researching sleep and holds a Certified Sleep Science Coach certification from the Spencer Institute. Not to mention the years she spent studying mental health fundamentals while earning her bachelor's degrees in both Psychology and Sociology. She is also a Certified Stress Management Coach.
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Taylor Leamey
4 min read
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What's happening

The new number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has been launched. All you have to do is dial 988 for crisis intervention.

Why it matters

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people. 988 crisis line increases access to help.

What's next

988 is an easy-to-remember number that you can dial to connect with suicide prevention and mental health crisis resources.

September is National Suicide Prevention month, and getting mental health help is easier than ever. The new health emergency number is 988, which replaces the previous 10-digit number established in 2005 by National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. When you call 988, you receive real-time free and confidential support, prevention and crisis resources. 

The 988 hotline is a significant stride in mental health accessibility in America. However, this change has significantly increased call volume to local crisis centers, which has started to overload already under-funded crisis centers. Here's what to know about 988 and the work to prevent suicide. 

What is the 988 hotline and does it work?

When you dial 988, you will be connected to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a network of 200 nationwide crisis centers. It is an equivalent to 911 and will connect you to trained mental health professionals who can help. The 988 crisis line will not have all the resources 911 has. The network will be closely communicating with 911 dispatchers if emergency resources are needed. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, only 2% of current Lifeline calls require emergency support from 911. 

What happens when you call the 988 crisis line:

  • When you call, you will be directed to your closest crisis center based on your area code.  
  • Once connected, the trained mental health professional will listen and help address the issue by providing support and resources. 
  • You will be connected to a backup location if your local center is unavailable. 

The number change for this resource might not seem like that big of a deal, but removing the barrier of being able to find the 10-digit number online or remembering it will make it more accessible to people. 

Lifeline and other hotlines work. Studies show that hotlines are effective in helping people who are experiencing thoughts of suicide or having a mental health crisis. 66% of people said that the chat intervention feature offered by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is helpful. 

So what's the issue with 988?

In terms of the function and goal of the 988 crisis line, there is no issue. However, money and resources are lacking to support this initiative. Congress authorized 988 in 2020; however, the funding for crucial things like staffing and infrastructure (phone line and internet connection) were left to the states. Many centers are finding that states haven't provided adequate funding to supplement. 

Image of Capitol building in Washington, DC

Most states have yet to allocate funding for 988 operations.

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Before the July rollout, many states hadn't made progress on legislation in the face of the federal mandate. President Joe Biden's 2022 budget request includes funding for Lifeline. However, according to a SAMHSA report, federal and state resources are needed to support the estimated $560 million needed to help local centers prepare and $110 million annually to fund the 988 hotlines. 

Our mental health system is already underfunded and under-resourced. The concern is that local centers will be unable to keep up with the demand for calls. Being routed to another crisis center unfamiliar with local resources is problematic for quick assistance. Calling 911 is not an adequate stand-in for mental health emergencies as you may not connect to someone qualified to address the situation properly. When it comes to mental health events, minutes matter.

The future of 988

The 988 crisis line is live and seeing increased call rates, regardless of whether centers are ready to take on the influx of calls. Even with the potential road bumps, 988 is a good thing and an undeniable step toward addressing the growing mental health crisis in the US. We should expect a time of growth and adaptation in the coming months. 

Considerable time and resources from state and local organizations are needed to help centers prepare for the strain widespread accessibility brings. Hopefully, 988 is only the beginning. 

Frequently asked questions

Is the suicide hotline number changing?

As of July 16, 988 will replace the original lifeline 10-digit phone number. The current number (1-800-273-8255) will always remain available, even after 988 is rolled out. 

What are other suicide prevention resources?

988 is an easy and accessible way to get suicide prevention assistance. However, it's not the only option out there. And you may find that others are better suited for your needs. 

Suicide prevention resources: 

  • Crisis Text Line: Text Home to 741741 to connect to a counselor.   
  • Trevor Lifeline: Contact the 24/7 phone service at 1-866-488-7386. TrevorText is available by texting "START" to 678678.
  • Trans Lifeline: Call 877-565-8860 to access. Hours are 7 a.m.–1 a.m. PST / 9 a.m.–3 a.m. CST / 10 a.m.–4 a.m. EST. 
  • Veterans Crisis Line: Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 or text 838255

What happens if you call 988?

When you dial 988, you will be routed to a regional crisis center that is a part of Lifeline's network. All crisis specialists are trained to handle mental health emergencies. If additional help is needed, the crisis specialist will connect you to a mobile crisis response team or an ambulance. 

How can family members help a loved one that's in danger of suicide?

Talking about suicide doesn't increase the risk of it happening. According to the 988 Suicide Crisis & Lifeline website, acknowledging and discussing suicide may reduce suicidal ideation. The most important role of a family member is to be there without judgment. You can help them create a network of people and resources that offer safety and assistance when needed. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.