The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (988 Lifeline) was launched nationwide last summer, and mental health experts report that it’s made help more accessible for Americans. Like dialing 911 for medical emergencies, people in emotional distress or suicidal crisis can call or text 988 to connect with counselors who will listen, provide support and connect them to resources.
The three-digit dialing code was new, but the hotline was not. Since 2005, the 988 Lifeline has been a network of roughly 200 crisis centers funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Last July, the easy-to-remember dialing code (988) replaced the original 1-800 number to make it easier to remember a number to call when in distress or in a crisis.
It takes 35 seconds using the 988 Lifeline for someone to reach a counselor, according to SAMHSA. Before the dialing code, it took one minute and 20 seconds.
To expand accessibility, SAMHSA recently added Spanish text and chat services to the 988 Lifeline.
Americans have heavily used the text messaging service. In May 2023, the 988 Lifeline received about 71,000 text messages with a 99% response rate. In comparison, 8,300 texts were received in May 2022, with an 82% response rate.
What Worked? What Didn’t Work?
It’s only been one year since the dialing code launched, but awareness is increasing. As of June, 63% of Americans had heard of 988—and those ages 18 to 29 were most aware of it, according to a National Alliance on Mental Illness survey. Additionally, LGBTQ+ individuals were twice as likely to be familiar with 988 than those who do not identify as LGBTQ+.
Although many have heard of the hotline, only 17% reported being “very/somewhat familiar” with it. Many Americans are unsure how it operates. Unlike 911, emergency services will not automatically head your way since 988 doesn’t use geolocation. Eventually, georouting could be added to the hotline to help identify callers’ regions—but not exact locations—to better connect them to local help.
Furthermore, an in-person response doesn’t occur. Most calls are de-escalated over the phone, with less than 2% involving law enforcement. Currently, a caller will be connected to a trained counselor over the phone, a text or chat.
Spreading the Word
The 988 Lifeline can provide immediate support during someone’s darkest hour. It provides accessible care to anyone experiencing mental health-related distress, including thoughts of suicide, mental health or substance use crisis, or other emotional struggles.
It’s vital to continue spreading the word about 988 in your state. People can also call it if they are worried about a loved one who may need immediate support.
For more mental health resources, talk to your doctor or AHW coach.