What is 988?
In July 2020, the Federal Communications Commission established 988 as a nationwide, easy-to-remember dialing code for Americans in crisis to connect with suicide prevention and mental health crisis counselors. The FCC’s rules require phone service providers to direct all 988 calls to the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline beginning on Saturday, July 16, 2022. 1,2,3 While 988 is not currently live across the country, it will be soon. Here is what you should know.
Why is 988 important?
Since 2008, suicide has ranked as the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S.6 Suicide claimed the lives of nearly 48,000 people in the U.S. in 2019. 4,5,6 And evidence is showing that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased mental health concerns, including anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.7 Suicide does not discriminate – it impacts people and families of all socioeconomic, racial, sexual, and religious backgrounds. Young people and older generations are not immune.
When a mental health crisis occurs, families and friends are often caught off-guard. Their first response may be to manage the issue alone or to call 911. Calling 911 has sometimes meant that people in mental crisis encounter law enforcement or an emergency room rather than a mental health professional. The goal of 988 is to create a strong mental health crisis system for communities to deploy the right level of care to people during a mental health emergency.3 988 is the first step to creating a stronger mental health support system across communities in the U.S.
The lack of a robust mental health crisis system has led to tragic results. One in four fatal police shootings between 2015 and 2020 involved a person with a mental illness. About 44% of people in jail and of people in prison have a mental health condition and 2 million people with mental illness are booked into the nation’s jails every year. Even more end up in emergency rooms that may not be adequately prepared to address a mental health crisis. Many of these people often wait hours or days to access the right level of care. 3
How will 988 work?
988 will go live nationally on Saturday, July 16, 2022. At that time, anyone who calls 988 will be routed to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The Lifeline’s network of over 200 local crisis centers and counselors has been in operation since 2005. This means, day or night, 365 days a year, a trained mental health counselor will be on the line to help a person in crisis. The Lifeline is free and confidential. Text and online chat options are also available. The current Lifeline phone number (800-273-8255) will always remain available to people in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, even after 988 is launched nationally. The Lifeline reports that callers feel less suicidal, less depressed, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful after speaking with a Lifeline counselor. 8
911 also will not go away. 911 and 988 call centers will work together to assess whether the emergency is related to a potential law enforcement issue, a physical health emergency, or a mental health crisis.
988 is just the start to build a stronger mental health crisis response system across the country. Over time, the goal is to create an infrastructure to help communities respond with the right level of support for mental health emergencies.
Get the word out about 988 and suicide prevention
Talk with your patients about their mental health. Convey hope that services are available to support them. Be vigilant about suicide risk and encourage your patients to reach out the Lifeline at 988 if a mental health crisis happens. Let them know there is help now and when they need it should a crisis arise. For more information about 988, visit:
Now and when 988 goes live on July 16, 2022, Krames/WebMD Provider Services is here to support conversations with your patients about their mental health. We offer clinical and consumer health education for people with mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, and more. We have education to support suicide prevention.
For more information, see www.krames.com.
1. Suicide Prevention Hotline. Federal Communications Commission Web site. https://www.fcc.gov/suicide-prevention-hotline. Accessed June 23, 2022.
2. Fact Sheet: 988 Suicide Prevention Lifeline & 10-Digit Dialing. Federal Communications Commission Web site. https://www.fcc.gov/document/fact-sheet-988-suicide-prevention-lifeline-10-digit-dialing. Accessed June 23, 2022.
3. 988: Reimagining Crisis Response. National Alliance on Mental Illness Web site. https://www.nami.org/Advocacy/Crisis-Intervention/988-Reimagining-Crisis-Response. Accessed June 23, 2022.
4. Suicide Mortality in the United States, 1999-2017. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db330.htm#:~:text=Since%202008%2C%20suicide%20has%20ranked,35%E2%80%9354%20(1). Accessed June 23, 2022.
5.Risk of Suicide. National Alliance on Mental Illness Web site. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Common-with-Mental-Illness/Risk-of-Suicide. Accessed June 23, 2022.
6. National Institute of Mental Health Web site. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide. Accessed June 23, 2022.
7. COVID-19 pandemic triggers 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide. World Health Organization Web site. https://www.who.int/news/item/02-03-2022-covid-19-pandemic-triggers-25-increase-in-prevalence-of-anxiety-and-depression-worldwide. Accessed June 23, 2022.
8. The Lifeline and 988. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Web site. https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/current-events/the-lifeline-and-988/. Accessed June 23, 2022.