If you or a loved one find yourself having a mental health crisis or suicidal thoughts, you have access to a new national service that can help connect you quickly with qualified support and assistance.
The 988 Mental Health Crisis Line
The new hotline launched on July 16, 2022, and it’s reachable from anywhere in the United States by dialing 988.
Dialing that 988 number for mental health connects you with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is “a nationwide network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential support to individuals with mental health worries or dealing with a mental health crisis,” says Jeanne Moral, division manager of systems initiatives, planning and communication with the County of Santa Clara Behavioral Health Services Department in California.
Arianna Galligher, associate director of the STAR Trauma Recovery Center at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, explains that this number augments the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number 1-800-273-8255 (TALK), which has been in operation since 2005.
That older number still works and will connect users into the same system as calling the 988 number, says Frances Chinchilla, a behavioral health therapist and clinical supervisor at AltaMed Health Services in Los Angeles. “Switching to 988 does not mean the 1-800-273-8255 number is going away.” Both numbers will get people to the help they need, she says, “988 is just an easier number to remember and strengthens and expands the network of crisis call centers.”
She also notes that you can access the Lifeline’s chat feature via its website, too. “People seeking chat services will be provided a pre-chat survey before connecting with a counselor. The survey identifies the main area of concern. If there is a wait to chat with a crisis counselor, a wait-time message will appear. If demand is high, people can access the Lifeline’s ‘helpful resources’ while waiting or call 988.” The chat option is currently only available in English.
The concept behind the new 988 number is to make access to mental health services in a crisis easier to remember and as simple as getting help for a medical emergency when you call 911, says Samantha Maeda, a licensed behavioral health clinician with L.A. Care Health Plan — the largest publicly operated health plan in the country. The aim of this dedicated three-digit dialing code is to increase the effectiveness of suicide prevention efforts, ease access to crisis services and reduce the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health conditions.
You can also text your message to the 988 number and that will connect you with a trained crisis counselor. “The text option is an excellent feature as many individuals needing these services may not have privacy in their homes or work environment needed to receive much needed support and care,” Elnaz Mayeh, director of clinical operations for Los Angeles-based Lightfully Behavioral Health says. “The ability to text with a counselor will help eliminate this barrier and further increase accessibility to receive mental health care.”
However, Maeda notes the texting service is currently only available in English, unlike the live phone call option which can be translated into more than 200 different languages.
Who’s the Hotline For?
“Anyone experiencing severe emotional distress, thoughts of suicide or thoughts of harming others can call this number for help,” Galligher says. “Additionally, those searching for resources to help a loved one in distress can call to access information and support.”
You may find it helpful to call the 988 mental health crisis line if you’re struggling with:
— A substance use-related crisis.
For example, Mayeh says, “suppose you or a loved one is experiencing suicidality or other mental health concerns that lead to helplessness and hopelessness and you are not certain what to do, where to start, who to contact and what resources are available to you.” This isn’t an uncommon situation, she says, because “mental health has not received as much attention as it deserves, and many folks are not well-versed in resources available to them.”
In this situation, you can dial 988 for assistance. “Like the suicide hotline, the automated service will direct the individual to a live local crisis counselor who will listen to the individual and provide support and expertise to manage the psychiatric crisis. Additionally, the crisis counselor can provide the individual with appropriate referrals and outside resources.”
Mental Health America, a community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and promoting the overall mental health of all, reports that while most mental health and suicide-related calls do not require emergency response (such as would occur when 911 is called), some mental health crises do result in dispatch of an emergency responder when there’s an imminent risk of harm to the self or others. Data provided by Lifeline call centers to MHA show that “approximately 98% of answered Lifeline calls do not require an emergency response. Of the 2% that do, over 60% of those calls are ones where the caller agrees that emergency services are needed and collaborates with the Lifeline counselor to receive those services.”
What to Expect When You Call 988
“Once you call, you’ll be routed to an available responder,” Maeda says. That responder, who is a trained crisis counselor, will ask for basic information including name, gender, military status, ethnicity, age and zip code.
“The Lifeline is anonymous and confidential,” Moral adds. “Services may or may not involve law enforcement in emergencies.” It’s also completely free, and 988 is available 24/7 and in more than 200 languages via phone call.
During that initial conversation, the responder will evaluate the caller for any thoughts of self-harm or suicide and will ask about your access to weapons or other means of harming yourself to determine whether you’re in immediate danger.
Most importantly, the responder will “listen to the caller,” Maeda says. “Depending on the severity of caller’s answers, the caller will be offered different mental health services or other appropriate services.”
Galligher adds the responder will “present options for next steps in locating and linking with ongoing support as needed to help you stay safe.”
She says this new number should help destigmatize mental health emergencies in aid of suicide prevention efforts. “For far too long, mental health concerns have been stigmatized, deterring many people from reaching out for help and leaving them instead to struggle and suffer in silence. The reality is that most people will face situations that lead to emotional distress at some point in their lives. Sometimes, this distress can reach a point where typical ways of coping just aren’t sufficient. This doesn’t mean you’re crazy, damaged, broken or bad. It just means you’re human, and that you could use a little support.”
Reaching out for that support is now as simple as dialing 988.
When to Seek Help
Galligher also notes that you don’t have to wait until a point of crisis to ask for help. “If you or someone you love are experiencing symptoms, it’s OK to reach out for help — in fact, the sooner, the better. Taking a proactive stance on maintaining your mental health is part of optimizing your overall wellness.”
Symptoms that a mental health professional can help you with include:
— Increased irritability.
— Persistent feelings of anxiety.
— Crying spells.
— Social isolation or withdrawal.
— Decreased ability to concentrate.
— Changes in appetite or sleep patterns.
— Thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
— Difficulty functioning at work, school or in relationships with others.
More from U.S. News
Reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by Calling 988 originally appeared on usnews.com
Correction 08/08/22: This story has been updated to reflect Elnaz Mayeh’s official title.
Update 09/06/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.