The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has been transitioned from a 1-800 phone number to simply dialing 988 for those in need of mental health support. The transition took place on July 16.
Crisis care is available through 988 on a 24/7 basis for those having emotional distress, suicidal thoughts or a substance use crisis. It also links to the Veterans Crisis Line. This change was a result of a three-year joint effort by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
In 2020, the bi-partisan National Suicide Hotline Designation Act was signed into law that authorized the 988 number, required by all U.S. telephone and text providers by the FCC. The Lifeline, which was established in 2005, was reported to be underfunded. In 2019, the FCC first proposed the easy-to-remember number 988 to Congress. On July 16, 2020, the FCC adopted the rules and in 2021 adopted additional rules, expanding it to text ability.
The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline provides a network of more than 200 state and local call centers that are supported by HHS through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). “Recent investments made in the Lifeline have already resulted in more calls, chats, and texts answered even as volume has increased, but we know that too many people are still experiencing suicidal crisis or mental health-related distress without the support they need,” said Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Ph.D., the HHS Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use and leader of SAMHSA. “Over time, the vision for 988 is to have additional crisis services available in communities across the country, much the way emergency medical services work. The success of 988 depends on our continued partnership with states, as the federal government cannot do this alone. We urge states and territories to join us and invest further in answering the call to transform our crisis care response nationwide.”
Due to the VA’s partnership with the Lifeline, veterans and their loved ones can now Dial 988 then Press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line. “988 has been a long time coming and will serve as a critical resource during a crisis when every second counts. The new, shorter number will help ensure Veterans have easier access to the Veterans Crisis Line,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “This launch is a whole-of-government approach in line with the President’s call to prioritize mental health by strengthening access to crisis services, and preventing Veteran suicide, our top clinical priority.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one death by suicide took place every eleven minutes in the U.S. in 2020. Suicide was the second leading cause of death for people, aged 10-14 and 25-34.
The 10-digit Lifeline number 1-800-273-TALK (8255) will continue to be operational and will route calls to 988 indefinitely. Veterans, service members, and their families can also still reach the Veterans Crisis Line with the current phone number 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, or by chat or text to 838255.
By GLORIA PLEVA KACIK