What's 988? What you need to know about the new national mental health crisis hotline

July 18, 2022 Swedish Health Team

[5 min read]

In this article: 

  • July 16 is the launch date for 988, the new three-digit dialing code to connect people with the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

  • The new number is a free service available to all cellphone and land line users 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

  • 988 responds to voice calls and offers services via chat and text features.    

Beginning July 16, 988 is the new, three-digit dialing code that will connect people with the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Dialing 988 makes compassionate, accessible care available to anyone experiencing any kind of mental health crisis, whether that is suicidal thoughts, a mental health or substance-use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress. 988 is also available to those who are worried about a friend or loved one experiencing a mental health crisis. 

This new 988 number is available to all landline and cellphone users, and provides callers with access to a network of over 200 local and state funded crisis centers. 988 callers experiencing a mental health crisis or who are suicidal will be routed to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and connected with a crisis counselor for resources and referrals, or where available, connection with a mobile crisis unit. 

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, suicide deaths increased between 2010 and 2018 and then slowed in 2019 and 2020—although some research suggests that suicide deaths are undercounted—and suicide deaths are increasing fastest among people of color, younger individuals and people who live in rural areas. Underdiagnosis of mental health conditions, structural barriers to care, stereotypes and discrimination associated with poor mental health, racism and discrimination, and disparities in the use of mental health services may all contribute to rising suicide rates among people of color. In rural areas, suicide death rates increased significantly, possibly due to acute shortages of mental health workers in these areas. 

What do you need to know about 988? 

When will 988 be available? 
The 988 dialing code will be available nationwide for calls in multiple languages and English-only text or chat on July 16, 2022. Until then, those experiencing a mental health-related or suicidal crisis, or those looking to help a loved one through a crisis, should continue to call the Lifeline at its current number, 1-800-273-8255.

What happens when I call 988? 
Starting July 16, 2022, when calling 988, callers first hear a greeting message while their call is routed to the local Lifeline network crisis center (based on the caller’s area code). A trained crisis counselor will answer the phone, listen to the caller, understand how their problem is affecting them, provide support, and share resources if needed. If the local crisis center is unable to take the call, the caller will be automatically routed to a national backup crisis center. The Lifeline provides live crisis center phone services in English and Spanish and uses Language Line Solutions to provide translation services in over 250 additional languages for people who call 988.

Does 988 have chat and text features? 
Yes. Both are available in English-only on the new hotline number. Chat is available through the Lifeline’s website, suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat People seeking chat services will be provided a pre-chat survey before connecting with a counselor that identifies the main area of concern. If there is a wait to chat with a crisis counselor, a wait-time message will appear. If demand is high, individuals can access the Lifeline’s “helpful resources” while waiting or call 1-800-273-8255 or 988 after July 16, 2022.

Once connected, a crisis counselor will listen to you, work to understand how your problem is affecting you, provide support, and share resources that may be helpful. Text will be available through 988 by July 16, 2022. When someone texts to 988, they will be responded to by a group of Lifeline crisis centers that respond to chat and text. This service will expand over the next few years to increase local and state level response. Once connected, a crisis counselor will listen to you, work to understand how your problem is affecting you, provide support, and share resources that may be helpful.

Is calling 988 different than calling 911? 
Yes. 988 was established to improve access to crisis services in a way that meets our country’s growing suicide and mental health-related crisis care needs. 988 will provide easier access to the Lifeline network and related crisis resources, which are distinct from the public safety purposes of 911 (where the focus is on dispatching Emergency Medical Services, fire and police as needed).

Is this service free? 
Yes. The Lifeline responds in multiple languages 24 hours a day, seven days a week as well as  chats or texts (currently in English only) from anyone who needs mental health-related or suicide crisis support and connects them with trained crisis counselors. The support and service received from the crisis counselors is provided at no charge to those who use the service; however, standard data rates from telecommunication mobile carriers may apply to those who text to the Lifeline. If monetary assistance is needed for communications needs, please see www.fcc.gov/lifeline-consumers for more information.

Visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for more information. 

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Find a doctor

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult with a doctor or mental health professional virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow-up as needed. If you need to find a physician, caregiver or advanced care practitioner, you can use our provider directory. Learn more about behavioral health and psychiatry programs at Swedish.

Related resources

You are not alone: Finding ways to prevent suicide

Understanding mental health counseling

Recognize and manage the signs of mental health struggles

How to help someone in the midst of a mental health crisis

 

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

 

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