People experiencing mental health-related distress can now call 988, the new three-digit dialing code, to access the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
On July 16, the 988 dialing code began routing people in crisis to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline services. The shortened number may make the hotline more accessible for people experiencing mental health crises, compared to the previous longer number (1-800-273-8255), experts hope.
The move to implement a faster number came after advocates pushed to shorten the 1-800 number to help with the worsening mental health crisis. Then-President Trump signed legislation into law in 2020 that created the new code, with advocates hoping the shortened number will be easier to remember. Experts also hope the new number will encourage more people who are experiencing a mental health crisis to seek help from the hotline instead of calling 911, which often results in police intervention rather than clinical care.
Every year, millions of 911 calls involve a person experiencing an emergency related to a mental health or substance use disorder, according to the Pew Research Center. Mental health advocates see this as an equity issue, especially when it comes to Black and Brown communities, who face greater risks of violence with police intervention.
An estimated 11.4 million adults have serious suicidal thoughts, according to a 2022 State of Mental Health Report from Mental Health America. That’s an increase of 664,000 people from last year.
“One of the unfortunate after-effects of the social isolation that came from the Covid-19 pandemic are individuals who have been suffering alone with depression and not connected to treatment or crisis services,” says Erik Riera, the director of County of Santa Cruz Health Services Agency.
The new number will connect people to the existing local mental health centers that are staffed 24/7. The three-digit code is a direct line for people experiencing mental health distress to seek help from trained counselors.
Anyone who is experiencing mental health distress, or is in need of support, can call or text the number to seek help. They do not need to be in danger of suicide to reach out to the lifeline, and even concerned loved ones seeking professional support can use the hotline.