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988: Shorter Crisis Lifeline Debuts Saturday

On Saturday, the U.S. will transition to 988: a three-digit suicide and crisis hotline. The change is the first step in reimagining crisis support.

Since 2005, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 has helped people experiencing mental health-related distress by connecting them directly to locally operated and funded crisis centers.

On July 16, the 11 digit number will be swapped out for the easy-to-remember 988.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Lifeline volume has grown to more than 3 million calls, chats, and texts. The number of calls to the Lifeline is expected to at least double after the change.

The hotline is designed not only for those experiencing suicidal crises, but for other mental health related distress as well, including substance abuse or any other kind of emotional distress. People are also encouraged to use the resource if concerned about someone in their life.

Nationally, there is a need for crisis intervention. In 2020 alone, the U.S. had one death by suicide about every 11 minutes according to SAMHSA. From April 2020 to 2021, over 100,000 individuals died from drug overdoses, and for people aged 10 – 34 years, suicide is a leading cause of death.

The change to 988 originates from the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018, which required a feasibility study into the creation of a three-digit dialing code for the Lifeline. The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020 then required the Federal Communications Commission to designate 988 as the universal number for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline.

The public-private partnership National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention says the transition to 988 is an opportunity for states and territories to reimagine and fund not only crisis call centers, but mobile crisis response teams and crisis stabilization services as well.

The previous 1-800 number will continue to function even after the transition.

North Central/Morgantown Reporter, cschulz@wvpublic.org, 304-284-1497, @SchulzReports

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