If you have suicidal thoughts, emotional distress, or a substance-use issue, help is now only a three-digit number away: call or text 988.
The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, introduced nationally in mid-July, replaces the 11-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number. Authorities hope the easy-to-remember shortcut — similar to using 911 for medical or public safety emergencies — helps more people reach trained counselors in a moment of need.
More than 1.2 million people attempted to kill themselves in 2020, resulting in nearly 46,000 deaths, according to the most recent statistics from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This makes suicide the 12th leading cause of death in the United States. The suicide rate among men is nearly four times that of women.
The COVID-19 pandemic contributed significantly to increases in depression and anxiety, especially among teens and young adults in the United States, according to the American Psychological Association. Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 14 and 25 to 34.
How does 988 work?
Calls and texts to 988 are routed to a mental health professional at one of the more than 200 crisis centers in the U.S. 988 network. (This hotline can also be reached through a chat feature on the hotline’s website.) Callers are routed to a center closest to their phone number’s area code.
A mobile crisis team of mental-health experts and peer-support counselors will be dispatched if a person needs more help. Mental-health or residential facilities may also be contacted for longer-term care and support.
Unlike 911, no ambulances, police or firefighters will be automatically dispatched to the caller’s location. “The vast majority of those seeking help from the Lifeline do not require any additional interventions at that moment. Currently, fewer than 2% of Lifeline calls require connection to emergency services like 911. … [T]he 988 coordinated response is intended to promote stabilization and care in the least restrictive manner.,” states a government FAQ about the 988 website.
The change to 988 is part of a $282 million federal effort to increase suicide prevention and crisis care work, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.