Starting Saturday, July 16, if you or someone or know is in a mental health crisis and thinking about suicide, there’s a new number to call: 988. And the call center holding that number will be called the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline instead of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
The three-digit number was created by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2018, in collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Veterans Affairs, before President Donald Trump signed a National Suicide Hotline Designation Act in 2020. The code was created to make it easier to remember than the old 10-digit one — 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) — and to reduce the number of mental health calls to 911, as that number was designed to handle medical emergencies, not mental health ones. This is because people in a mental health crisis who currently dial 911 often end up sitting in busy emergency rooms, waiting for hours to receive the care they need, or interacting with police (a situation that often becomes dangerous or even deadly). Furthermore, you’ll have the option to text the 988 number instead if you aren’t comfortable talking on the phone to someone.
Currently, most states redirect distressed callers to out-of-state backup centers funded by the Lifeline because, as reported by Politico, state officials have been struggling to get the consistent funding they need to run their local hotline programs and hire enough staff to meet demand. Once the new number launches nationwide, they’ll expect to see a surge in calls seeking help.
The 988 number will connect you to the existing network of 200 local call centers staffed by trained counselors taking calls 24/7. The old aforementioned 10-digit number will still be active, but the calls will be re-routed to the new number once it launches.