New 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline marks first week since launch
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a new, easy-to-remember number for 24/7 crisis care.
The transition to 988 — a three-year joint effort by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to put crisis care more in reach for people in need — officially ended with the launch of 9-8-8 last Saturday, July 16.
The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a network of more than 200 state and local call centers supported by HHS through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
The initiative is part of the Biden administration’s effort to address the nation’s ongoing mental health crisis and was identified by U.S. Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra as a top priority at HHS.
Since January 2021, federal investments to support the 988 transition have increased 8-fold (from $24M to $432M).
The 10-digit Lifeline number 1-800-273-TALK (8255) will continue to be operational after July 16 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
Information for states and territories
At the state and territory level, in addition to existing public/private sector funding streams, the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020 allows states to enact new telecommunication fees to help support 988 operations.
The National Academy for State Health Policy has tracked how states are considering necessary components for implementation like telecommunications charges and funding schemas, workgroups to drive 988 policy, and how to integrate this into existing crisis call systems. Explore state enacted legislation to implement and fund 988 on their website.
A full set of partner tools — including social media graphics, FAQs, fact sheets, videos, newsletter templates, and more — is available on SAMHSA’s website.
There are several existing federal resources that can be leveraged to support 988 implementation as well.
Examples from SAMHSA include the crisis set-aside through the Mental Health Block Grant as well as funding through the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) program. States are also able to leverage Medicaid dollars and State Opioid Response grants. States can find descriptions of these funding sources in the 988 Convening Playbook for States, Territories, and Tribes.
The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, signed into law after the passage of bipartisan legislation in 2020, authorized 988 as a new three-digit number for suicide and mental health crisis. All telephone service and text providers in the U.S. and the five major U.S. territories were required by the FCC to activate 988 no later than July 16.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide or experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis, call or text 988. You can also chat https://t.co/9rVG9BEOgT. 988 connects you with a trained crisis counselor who can help. #988Lifeline pic.twitter.com/cKhJfTevjz
— HHS.gov (@HHSGov) July 19, 2022
“988 is more than a number, it is a message: we’re there for you. Through this and other actions, we are treating mental health as a priority and putting crisis care in reach for more Americans,” said Secretary Becerra, who has been meeting with states across the country about the transition to 988 as part of HHS’ National Tour to Strengthen Mental Health.
The $432 million included $105 million in grant funding to states and territories, provided by the American Rescue Plan, to improve response rates, increase capacity to meet future demand, and ensure calls initiated in their states or territories are first routed to local, regional, or state crisis call centers. Prior to this investment, the Lifeline, which has existed since 2005, had been long unfunded and under-resourced.
“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.”
FCC staff first proposed 988 in a report to Congress in August 2019 as the nationwide, easy-to-remember, 3-digit dialing code for individuals in crisis to connect to suicide prevention and mental health crisis counselors with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. On July 16, 2020, the FCC adopted rules designating 988 for this purpose. Recognizing the need to better support at-risk communities in crisis, including youth and individuals with disabilities, the FCC adopted additional rules in November 2021 to expand access to this important service by establishing the ability to also text 988.
“All across our country, people are hurting. They need help. The good news is that getting that help just got a lot easier. Starting tomorrow, 988 will be available nationwide for individuals in crisis, and their loved ones, to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline more easily,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “This cross-government effort has been years in the making and comes at a crucial point to help address the mental health crisis in our country, especially for our young people.”