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New National Suicide and Mental Health Emergency Hotline: Call 988

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT
Meet The Team >

Suicide Hotline, Mental Health Emergencies, Substance Use Emergencies

Before the coronavirus pandemic swept across the country in early 2020 and created a mental health crisis for children and adolescents that prompted the Surgeon General of the United States to publish an advisory in early 2021 called Protecting Youth Mental Health, there was already a mental health crisis brewing.

The crisis: suicide.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published a series of reports that raised the alarm:

  • Between 2007 and 2018, the rate of suicide increased 57% for people ages 10-24
  • In 2014, suicide became the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-24
  • Between 2009 and 2019, the percentage of high school students seriously considering suicide increased by 36%
  • In 2017, more teens died by suicide than by car accidents
  • In 2019, 8.9% of high school students reported a suicide attempt, and 18.8% said they’d seriously considered suicide

Now, as the reality of the pandemic changes from immediate crisis to a new reality, the combined stress, grief, and uncertainty presents the risk of a mental health and suicide crisis for not only our children and teens, but also for the rest of the country.

Here’s the data for 2020:

  • 46,000 people in the U.S. died by suicide
    • That’s one death by suicide every 11 minutes
  • 12.2 million adults seriously thought about suicide
  • 3.2 million adults made a suicide plan
  • 1.2 million adults attempted suicide

Those disturbing statistics are the reason the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted last year – in November 2021 – to create a new national suicide emergency hotline. This hotline is different. Rather than require individuals in crisis to choose from one of several available ten-digit hotline contact numbers, the FCC decided to simplify the process.

Their goal was to make the number short, simple, and easy to remember:

988

988 is Like 911 for Mental Health

Everyone knows that in an emergency, they can call 911 and activate the police, the fire department, or the emergency medical system. We know 911 is for emergencies involving car accidents, crime, and other related crises.

Now, beginning on July 16th, 2022, we will have a new national emergency number: 988.

Anyone, anytime, from anywhere in the country, can dial 911 in the for suicide, mental health, and substance-use related emergencies.

Speaking to CNN in an interview in June, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra had this message for anyone in need of emergency mental health support:

“We want you to know that if you are suffering severe stress and emotional trauma, if you aren’t sure where to go, even if it’s not at a point of suicide, we want you to call. We want you to reach out. That is the purpose of the 988 lifeline. No longer will [you] have to call a 10-digit phone number to try to get help. What 911 is for local emergencies, we hope 988 will become people under emotional and mental stress.”

The infrastructure challenges presented by this new national emergency line have been addressed and solved. The plan: route all 988 calls to the current National Suicide Prevention Line – 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)s – and increase the number of trained mental health staff and suicide prevention counselors on call to accommodate the increase in demand.

The agencies involved began preparing for implementing changes last fall, and – if everything goes according to plan – the number is set to go live at 12:00 am on July 16th, 2022.

The New 988 Line: Frequently Asked Questions

To visit the main 988 information page maintained by SAMHSA, click here.

To download a pdf fact sheet to share with friends, family, peers, or loved ones, click here.

For a Spanish language copy of that pdf, click here.

To read the full 988 FAQ page published by SAMHSA, click here.

For a condensed version of the 988 FAQ page, see our summary below. We’ve covered some of this information above, but put it all in this one list to make it easy to find the answers you need.

988 FAQs: What You Need to Know

1, What is the 988 line?

    • Dialing 988 will connect people to the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, where compassionate, accessible care and support is available 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.

2. When will the 988 line go live?

    • July 16th, 2022

3. Who is the 988 line for?

    • The 988 line will support people seeking help during a suicide crisis, a mental health crisis, and/or substance use crisis.

4. What happens when I call 988?

 

    • Starting July 16, 2022, you’ll hear a greeting message while the service connects you call to the Lifeline network crisis center in your area code. If a local center cannot take the call, you’ll be routed to a national backup crisis center.

      Note: 988 will provides live crisis center phone services in English and Spanish and uses Language Line Solutions to provide translation services in over 250 additional languages.

5. What happens when I text 988?

    • English-only text support will be available through 988. Once connected, a crisis counselor will listen, work to understand your crisis, provide support, and share resources that may be helpful.

6. Who answers the calls?

    • Trained crisis counselors will answer every 988 calls. The currently National Lifeline requires that counselors meet essential training standards for Suicide Risk Assessment and Imminent Risk intervention. In addition, local crisis centers develop counselors to meet their community needs.

Note: The Lifeline Core Clinical Training offers a self-paced online training that will cover essential skills for crisis counselors interested in working on the emergency lines. To learn more about the training steps you need to take to become a mental health emergency support counselor, click here.

7. Is 988 connected to 911?

    • The 988 service will integrate with 911 counterparts at the federal, state, and local levels to ensure efficient transition from 988 to 911 if necessary.
    • In the event a transfer in necessary, the 988 emergency hotline crisis counselor will share critical, lifesaving information with the 911 operator

8. If I call 988, will they put me in a mental hospital?

    • Lifeline counselors resolve most contacts with the current suicide by text or phone without additional immediate intervention.

9. Do Emergency Lines Work?

    • Yes, emergency hotlines for suicide and mental health work. Studies show that people who use an emergency hotline for mental health support report feeling less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful after contacting a support hotline.

Parents: Talking Helps

Many parents worry that asking their teenager about suicidal thoughts or suicidal ideation will increase the risk that their teen will attempt suicide. Let’s set this straight:

The opposite is true.

Here’s a quote from a well-known study on the subject:

“Our findings suggest acknowledging and talking about suicide may in fact reduce, rather than increase suicidal ideation, and may lead to improvements in mental health in treatment-seeking populations.”

That’s the truth.

Talking helps – the sooner, the better.

NOTE: If your child is at imminent risk of harming themselves or someone else, call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately. DO NOT WAIT.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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