The new dial code is just one part of the network’s expanded services and improved accessibility.
Mental health is an urgent, national priority in the United States today. Hopefully, a recent update will help address unmet needs in communities across the country.
The update is to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which previously required callers to dial 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Now, callers only need to dial 988 from wherever they are in the U.S. in order to reach a crisis counselor and additional services.
It might seem like a small change, but it’s a sign of something much larger. It’s a sign that mental health services are becoming more accessible and more robust. It’s a sign that more money is being invested in mental health. And it’s a sign that more individuals can get connected to the help they need.
The numerical change comes on the heels of a significant increase in federal funding. The budget for the Lifeline has increased from $24 million to $432 million since January 2021, and Congress has tapped funds from the American Rescue Plan and the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act as well. That money will help train counselors, build greater support capacity, increase language accessibility, and scale services.
The “Lifeline” is shorthand for the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, formerly called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The Lifeline consists of a national network of phone, chat, and text services available to anyone in the United States who is having suicidal thoughts, experiencing emotional distress, or living with addiction.
988 is simply the new three-digit dialing code that anyone can call to be routed to the Lifeline. People can still call the old number, too, and reach the same services.
The network itself consists of over 200 centers across the country and has been evolving and growing since 2005. When someone calls 988, they’ll be routed to a local center based on their telephone number’s area code. Trained crisis counselors work at these centers who listen, provide support, and work with the caller toward a resolution, whether that’s something they can do on their own or with the help of another service or resource.
While it’s called the “988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline,” people can also visit the website, 988lifeline.org, if they’d prefer to chat digitally. You can also text 988 to receive text support.
In the end, 988 is much easier to remember and to dial than the older 11-digit dial code. The hope is that with easier access, more people will be able to take advantage of the larger, improved crisis network.
It’s also a message to all those who are living with a mental health condition that help is closer than it might appear, that they’re not alone, and that there are many people out there who want to support them.
Calling 988: When you call 988, you’ll be greeted by an automated message and then routed to a local call center based on your phone number’s area code. Note that if you’re not currently in the area code where your phone number is based, you’ll still be routed to a call center from that area.
Once you’re connected with a counselor, they will listen to whatever’s going on and what prompted the call. They’ll work to understand where you’re coming from and provide support as needed. Finally, if additional support or resources could be helpful, they’ll suggest those that are most appropriate.
Remember that even though the network is growing, there are still a limited number of trained crisis counselors and you may need to wait before being connected. Wait times can fluctuate depending on your area and demand, so it’s best to allow for around 20–30 minutes, including wait time and your conversation with the counselor.
You’ll never be required to provide personal or identifying information to receive services. The counselor may ask for more details, but it will always be with the aim to help. For example, a counselor may ask for your location in order to provide local referrals.
Chatting on 988lifeline.org: When you visit 988lifeline.org to use the chat service, you’ll first complete a short survey so the counselor knows a little bit about what you’re going through. Then you’ll be placed in a waiting queue until being connected. Once connected, the counselor will follow very similar steps as the call service, including listening, understanding, providing support, and connecting you to resources as needed.
As with the call service, you won’t be required to provide any identifying information, if you’d prefer not to.
The chat service is currently available in English and Spanish.
Texting 988: When you text 988, you’ll be connected with a network of centers that answer texts and chats (instead of being connected to a local crisis center, like when you call). Once you’re connected, the process will be very similar to the chat experience on their website.
Note that the text service is currently available only in English.
For more details on how the Lifeline works, consider visiting the 988 FAQ compiled by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Yes, it does. According to SAMHSA’s 988 FAQ, several studies have shown that Lifeline callers are more likely to feel less depressed or suicidal and more likely to feel hopeful after calling. One study, for example, showed that those who used the chat service were “significantly and substantially less distressed at the end of the chat intervention than at the beginning.”
A systematic review of 25 studies has demonstrated that “telemental health” provides effective and flexible solutions for various mental illnesses and is an adequate alternative to conventional care.
Another group of evidence, including over 60 clinical studies, has also shown that telemental health is a successful intervention for depression, suicide prevention, panic disorders, substance abuse, and more.
Aside from studies and statistics, services like the Lifeline are also an effective way of connecting people. The opportunity to chat with someone who cares about your situation is a valuable thing. As is the ability to get connected to other services or resources.
Finally, taking that first step of seeking help when you’re feeling overwhelmed is crucial in the process of recovery. And when already in a moment of crisis, it’s essential that help feels easily accessible.
With this simplified phone number, support is that much closer and available, and hopefully encourages more people to reach out when they need help.
Medically reviewed on August 31, 2022
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