Also known as the 911 for mental health crises, the new 988 rolled out Saturday, July 16, 2022. The crisis text line, a separate service, is still 741-741.
Those struggling with an emotional crisis including substance misuse or addiction, or a person with a loved one in an emotional health crisis, can call or text the 988 number.
At this writing, 988 Text and chat is available in English only but 988 voice calls are can be answered in Spanish or English. Language Line Solutions provides translation services for over 250 additional languages.
Congress designated the new 988 dialing code to be operated through the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in 2020. The goal of the effort behind 988 is to reduce confrontations between a person in a mental health crisis and law enforcement while connecting people in crisis to help right away. It’s part of a longer-term effort to ramp up mental emergency response teams around the country to be handled less frequently by guns and badges and more by those trained to address and de-escalate a mental health crisis situation.
How is 988 different from 911?
988 was established to improve access to crisis services that meet our country’s current demands for suicide and mental health-related crisis care needs. The new 988 number will provide easier access to the Lifeline network and related crisis resources, which are distinctly different from the public safety purposes of 911 where the focus is on dispatching Emergency Medical Services, fire, and police as needed.
A small percentage of Lifeline calls may require activation of the 911 system when there is an imminent risk to someone’s life that cannot be mitigated during a 988 Lifeline call. In these cases, the crisis counselor would share information with 911 that is crucial to saving the caller’s life.
Will they ask for my address and phone number?
People contacting 988 are not required to provide any personal data to receive services. SAMHSA recognizes the importance and the expectation of privacy when a person contacts 988 and the network system has multiple safeguards to address privacy and data concerns.
Any effort to obtain demographic information from those who use 988 will serve three primary purposes to:1
- save lives
- connect people to ongoing support
- evaluate system needs and performance, particularly ensuring that gaps and inequities are being addressed
What happens if I call the old number?
The Lifeline’s existing 1-800 number still works, but the service has had a makeover and will now be more able to address general mental health concerns and emotional distress, as well as suicide crises. Employees and volunteers staffing the 24/7 hotline will be trained counselors and in some states, they will now also be able to connect callers with local crisis teams. Callers can also connect with the Veterans Crisis Line or assistance in Spanish.
Deaf and hard of hearing can text. Call centers must provide immediate access to ASL-trained (ASL – American Sign Language) counselors, doing so for in-person mobile crisis services probably isn’t viable in most communities yet as there is a shortage of these individuals.
Who should call 988?
Anyone experiencing a mental health or substance use issue can call 988. The calls are anonymous just like they would be if you were in a counselor’s office.
The Lifeline currently serves TTY users either through their preferred relay service or by dialing 711 and then 1-800-273-8255. Lifeline also offers services through chat and text. Lifeline will be expanding to video phone service to better serve deaf or hard of hearing individuals seeking help through 988.
Counselors are trained in handling a wide range of mental health issues, including:
- suicidal thoughts
- other mental health trauma
Will I still have to wait?
Efforts have been made to eliminate or minimize wait times but in unveiling the new number there is likely to be a surge of calls, all good news that people are willing to reach out for help. People who call or text the number will be connected to a trained counselor at a crisis center closest to them. If a local crisis center is too busy to respond right away, the call will be routed to one of 16 backup centers around the country.
The history of switching to 988. While it seems easy, it was not. Changing to a three-digit number and finding which one is wrought with challenges.
Does it work?
In a review of 550 suicidal individuals who reached out to the hotline, 95 percent of them reported that the call stopped them from killing themselves, said former FCC chairman Ajit Pai.2 For the 10% of callers who may need additional support or in-person care, the counselors at the lifeline will connect them to that local care. The vision for 988 is to have additional crisis services available in communities across the country, much the way emergency medical services work and much like the CRT (Crisis Response Teams) operate in parts of the country already.
1 Source: SAMHSA: 988 Frequently Asked Questions