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A New Way to Reach Out for Help: 988

As of July 16, 2022, people experiencing a mental health crisis have a new way to reach out for help in the U.S. They can now call or text 9-8-8. It is modeled after the 911 emergency assistance line.

The new 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is an easy way to connect people who are suicidal or in crisis to a mental health professional. Mental health advocates are hopeful the launch of this program will increase access to care.

“If you are willing to turn to someone in your moment of crisis, 988 will be there,” said Xavier Becerra, the secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, at a recent press briefing. “988 won’t be a busy signal, and 988 won’t put you on hold. You will get help.”

988 will fill a gap in mental health crisis care

The program fills a big gap in mental health crisis care. Until now, most people experiencing a mental health emergency dialed 911. But 911 was never designed to address these kinds of emergencies. Law enforcement and emergency responders are not always equipped to help someone who is in mental health distress.  Too often, callers end up in emergency rooms or having traumatic interactions with law enforcement.

988 will connect callers to trained professionals

The 988 lifeline will connect people to the existing network of more than 200 local crisis call centers around the country. Mental health professionals believe 988 will be a safer and more effective alternative as a result.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 10-digit number — 1-800-273-8255 — will remain active, but calls will be routed to 988. People who call or text the number will be connected to a trained counselor at a crisis center closest to them. For the vast majority of people who call the current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the call itself is an effective intervention. “We know that close to 90% of people who call get what they need from the phone call,” says Chuck Ingoglia, CEO of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing

988 could prompt communities to develop more in-person crisis support

In preparation for the launch of 988, many states increased their ability to offer immediate care to people who call. Second only to Rhode Island, North Carolina already has an impressive call response performance, answering 98 percent of all calls to the suicide hotline. Despite what is expected to be a 50% increase in calls with this easier-to-remember number, State officials are confident North Carolina is prepared for the increase.

AYN is excited about the prospects of the program and urges everyone to spread the word to loved ones that greater access to emergency mental health care is available to anyone willing to make the call.

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