988: The New National Suicide Prevention Line

Beginning today, there is a new and easy way to reach the 24/7 national suicide prevention hotline by dialing only three digits: 988.

This is a monumental move by the government as mental health issues are rising in the country, especially due to covid. Prior to 988, the number being used for suicide prevention was the ten-digit 1-800-273-TALK, which will still be available while making the transition to 988. However, switching to the short 988 shows how mental health is being prioritized as much as any other emergency and is the 911 for mental health crisis.

The goal of 988 is to be as easy as 911 and to guarantee that people are receiving the mental counseling they need, no matter the time of day, for zero cost. When a person calls the hotline they can expect that a trained crisis counselor will answer and assist them with any needs. The number will also be available via text for scenarios where a person does not feel physically able to speak. This is an extremely important function as many people often need professional help quickly, but are too nervous to audibly speak about their troubles.

988 is for anyone experiencing thoughts of suicide, a substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress. The launch of the number comes just two years after the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act was signed into law in 2020, which set the stage for the new code’s activation. The change to this number is expected to save many lives as now it will be more accessible to everyone.

The 988 number is crucial to our society as in 2020 over 12 million people in the United States seriously thought about suicide, according to one study by the CDC. In 2020, suicide was also the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 14 and 24 to 34, second only to accidents.  An emergency number that is easy and accessible has been needed for quite some time now, especially as these statistics are only projected to get worse.

The government has also provided over $280 million to assist states in making systems that will do more than just provide a counselor when 988 is called. These systems are going to include mobile mental health crisis teams that can make home calls, mental health centers, and more for those who reach out.

The 988 number is expected to take a few years to fully establish, however, the move towards more accessible and easy mental health care is a tremendous progression for the country. Soon 988 will be prioritized and memorized just as 911.