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What Parents Need to Know About the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

New national hotline offers mental health support

Author Kari Hanson
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Published on: July 29, 2022

Woman looking sad on the phone

On July 16, the new 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline went into effect, providing a shorter number to access the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline service. Now, anyone who is seeking support or resources to address a suicidal or mental-health-related crisis — of their own or that of a loved one — can dial 988 to access prevention and crisis response resources. The helpline is reachable by phone call or text, and it’s free, confidential and available 24/7/365. 

What is 988?

The 988 line is an expansion of the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL), 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). The NSPL will remain active, but calls will now be routed to 988. The goal of this hotline is to provide support and services to people who are experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis, or who are worried about a loved one in crisis. Think of it as 911 for mental health.

Services offered through 988 are communicated in English and Spanish, with interpretation services available for more than 250 other languages.

Why do we need 988?

The hotline was created as part of a substantial federal investment of $400 million to improve and increase response services for people experiencing a mental-health-related crisis. By comparison, last year, states received $32 million to operate the NSPL’s national network of crisis centers.

This unprecedented funding increase is partly in response to a significant surge in the need for mental health services and the inability of crisis centers to adequately meet that need. At the beginning of 2022, centers were so lacking in resources that they could only answer 25 percent of the volume of calls and texts they received. Thanks to this funding infusion and the additional staff and contracts it has made possible, the number of answered calls has risen to 90 percent.

And the number of calls keeps increasing. When the NSPL launched in 2005, it received about 50,000 calls in its first year of operation. In 2020, that number had risen to 3.3 million calls, chats and texts. The 988 line is anticipated to receive at least double that number of calls and texts within its first year. Nearly every state is currently in the process of recruiting volunteers and employees to help meet this increased call volume.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for people ages 10–34. While talking to your children about suicide is absolutely vital, sometimes they (or you) need more support. The hope is that the shorter 988 number will be easy to remember and dial when that help is most critically needed.

It’s important to know that people can call 988 for support and resources even if they are not having an active crisis. Counselors will listen and talk to callers about what they are experiencing and provide them with referrals to the local and national support resources they need.

When should I contact 988?

You can call or text 988 at any time if you are experiencing:

  • Thoughts of suicide
  • A mental health crisis
  • A substance use crisis
  • Any other kind of emotional distress

You should also call or text if you are worried about a loved one who is having a mental health or substance use crisis.

What happens after I call or text 988?

When you connect with 988, you will speak with a crisis counselor who will listen and provide services and referrals. Unless the caller is in imminent danger that requires immediate medical assistance (such as a suicide attempt in progress), 911 will not be contacted. If the mental health crisis requires additional services, a mobile mental health unit may be sent. One of the goals of implementing 988 is to avoid a potentially tragic confrontation with police that can occur when someone experiencing a mental health crisis contacts 911.

Mental health distress can feel frightening and overwhelming. The 988 line exists to mobilize help. Please do not hesitate to reach out today if you or someone you know needs help.

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