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988 becomes new 3-digit suicide prevention hotline this month


Georgia and other states around the country will roll out 988 as the new National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number, similar to how people can call 911 for emergencies.

Starting July 16, all phone service providers will be required to connect callers who dial 988 to the lifeline. This new three-digit number replaces the existing lifeline, which uses a 10-digit number, 1-800-273-8255. The rollout has been in the works for years.

During a news conference announcing the launch, Maureen Iselin, a spokesperson for the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention said, “On July 16, our country enters a new era of crisis services.” 

For many advocates, 988 represents an opportunity to expand services but also a challenge because of possible added pressure on already strained mental health crisis response systems. Mental health professionals say it will help expand much-needed services and make them more accessible to people seeking help, but some experts have expressed concern saying their states aren’t ready for the launch and have questioned whether states will be ready for the increased call volume projected after the switch to the 988 models.

How does 988 work?

What to know: After dialing or texting 988, you’ll be connected with a trained mental health professional at a local or regional crisis center.  If your local center cannot connect you to a counselor, national backup centers can pick up the call. The lifeline is administered by the nonprofit Vibrant Emotional Health.

That’s how it has worked for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number, and the setup will continue after 988 is launched.

What experts say: The shortened, more accessible lifeline marks “a transformative moment in terms of thinking about approaching crisis care,” said Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, an assistant secretary at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, on Thursday.

The launch also comes amid what experts have called a mental health crisis in the U.S. amid the COVID-19 pandemic.


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