The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is launching a new three-digit dialing code number, 988, that will connect individuals seeking mental health support to a network of trained counselors in moments of crisis.
Starting on July 16, the 988 number will act as an all-access code for people to call, text, or chat with counselors within the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network across the U.S.
The new 988 number will serve as an easy-to-remember alternative to the Lifeline’s current ‘800’ number and help callers get the aid they need sooner than they would by calling 911, which can typically reroute the callers to law enforcement agencies before connecting them with mental health professionals.
Mental health experts are hopeful that the new number will improve the response times for people in crisis, allowing them to swiftly connect with a counselor. However, there have been growing concerns around the capacity to support a potential surge in calls due to the lack of federal funding once the line becomes available nationwide.
According to an NBC News report, bipartisan legislation in Congress mandated the launch of the 988 emergency number in 2020. But federal aid for staffing, phone lines, computer systems, and other infrastructure was left up to individual states to allocate. Colorado, Washington, Nevada, and Virginia are the four states to have “comprehensive funding plans” in place for the new 988 number.
“We have all of the technology,” Jennifer Piver, the executive director of Mental Health America of Greenville County in South Carolina told NBC News. “We do not have the funding for staff, for salaries.”
A report by the nonprofit RAND Corporation, cited by AXIOS, echoes the concerns of preparedness for the capacity of the 988 number, stating that “fewer than half of the public health officials responsible for deploying the new 988 national suicide prevention and mental health hotline are confident their communities have the necessary staff, financing or equipment.”
Since its establishment in 2005, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has received more than 20 million calls, with nearly 2.4 million alone in 2020. The current 10-digit number will remain available even after 988 is launched.
If you or someone you know is in immediate crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.