988: The New Three-Digit Suicide Prevention Hotline

988: The New Three-Digit Suicide Prevention Hotline

What is the 988 Suicide and Crisis Hotline? 

On July 16, 2022, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number transitioned to just three digits: 988. The new 988 suicide prevention hotline replaces the 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) number for the Lifeline; however, this number will still work. Text messages can be sent to 988 as well.*  

The 988 Hotline provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, across the United States. Launched in 2005, the Lifeline consists of a national network of more than 200 local crisis centers that help thousands of people overcome crisis situations every day. These centers are supported by local and state sources as well as the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) combining local care and resources with national standards and best practices.***

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States among ages 15–24.  According to a CDC report, youth suicide rates have risen by 35 percent since the start of the 21st century, and the number of teens admitted to children’s hospitals as a result of suicidal thoughts or self-harm has more than doubled during the last decade.  As youth suicide rates continue to increase, the goal of the new 988 hotline is to make assistance more easily accessible in a moment of crisis.*  Modeled after 911, the new three-digit 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is designed to be a memorable and quick number that connects people who are having suicidal thoughts or in any other mental health crisis to a trained mental health professional.***

"One of the goals of 988 is to ensure that people get the help they need when they need it, where they need it. So when a person calls 988, they can expect to have a conversation with a trained, compassionate crisis counselor who will talk with them about what they're experiencing. If it's the case that they need further intervention, then likely the crisis counselor will connect with a local mobile crisis team," Dr. Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, the administrator of SAMHSA, said earlier this month during a call with reporters.**** 

At a recent press briefing, Xavier Becerra, the secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services affirmed, "If you are willing to turn to someone in your moment of crisis, 988 will be there; the 988 hotline won't be a busy signal and 988 won't put you on hold. You will get help."*** Numerous studies have shown that callers feel less suicidal, less depressed, less overwhelmed and more hopeful after speaking with a LIfeline mental health crisis counselor.**



What happens when you call 988? 

According to the 988 lifeline website, when someone calls the 988 Hotline with a mental health crisis, the call flow is as follows:**

  • Caller hears an automated greeting with the additional option to press “1”  if they are in the military or calling about someone who has served. Pressing  “1” will send the caller to the Veteran Crisis Line, which serves our nation’s Veterans, service members, National Guard and Reserve members, and those who support them. For texts, Veterans should continue to text the Veterans Crisis Lifeline short code: 838255.*****  

  • A caller can press “2” if they need a Spanish speaking counselor.

  • If the caller does not press a prompt, they will listen to some music while connecting to a skilled, trained crisis counselor in the closest local center based on area code.  If the local center is unable to answer, the call is transferred to the national backup network.

  • A mental health crisis counselor will listen to the caller, work to understand what the caller is experiencing, provide them support, and collaborate with the caller on ways to feel better and get further local help or resources.

When someone texts the 988 hotline, they will complete a short survey that helps the counselor better understand their current situation, and then they will be connected to a mental health crisis counselor.

The 988 suicide hotline fills a big gap in mental health crisis care.  Currently, the majority of people experiencing a mental health emergency end up dialing 911.  The problem is that 911 wasn't set up to address mental health needs. Callers can end up in a chaotic emergency room, waiting for hours and sometimes days to get care, or they might interact with law enforcement, which can lead to tragedy and/or trauma.  Mental health advocates hope that the 988 hotline will become a widely known, safer and more effective alternative.***

Ongoing support after calling 988

For continued mental health care, it’s important to contact a counselor who can attend to your care on a regular basis. While a 988 hotline counselor can help you with an immediate mental health crisis, regular therapy can help you deal with life’s many challenges and enjoy a more fulfilled life. It can help you understand what you’re feeling, why and how to cope. Just like visiting your doctor for regular wellness exams, or your dentist for checkups, meeting regularly with a therapist can help keep your mental health in order.****** Call Heritage Counseling at 214-363-2345 to get more information about ongoing counseling appointments and other services we can provide.