On July 16th, 988 will officially become America’s mental health crisis hotline number. The hope with 988 is that those who are in a mental health crisis will be able to be receive fast and safe help for people experiencing mental health emergencies like suicide ideation, addiction and panic attacks.
It is estimated that more than 12 million people had serious thoughts of suicide and one in 20 adults experienced a serious mental illness in 2020, per the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
“A direct three-digit line to trained National Suicide Prevention Lifeline counselors will open the door for millions of Americans to seek the help they need, while sending the message to the country that healing, hope, and help are happening every day,” says Hannah Collins, spokesperson from Vibrant Emotional Health, the nonprofit administrator of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
The new 3 digit phone number will serve as alternative to calling 911 in a mental health emergency. “We believe strongly that people who are in a mental health crisis deserve a mental health response, not a criminal justice response,” says Jennifer Snow, national director of government relations, policy, and advocacy at NAMI.
A survey conducted by NAMI found that 46 percent of people do not feel safe calling 911 for help if their loved one were experiencing a mental health or suicide crisis. Many feel interactions between the police and those with mental illness can be dangerous and sometimes end in tragic situations.
Statistics provided by NAMI detail that one in four fatal police shootings between 2015 and 2020 involved a person with a mental illness, and those with mental illness who do survive the police interaction have a higher chance of jail or prison time.
The purpose of the designated 988 phone number is for those experiencing a mental health crisis to receive fast and safe help.
When someone dials 988, the call will be answered by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The caller will be directed to a crisis counselor at a local call center based on the area code.
Each center will consist of a staff and volunteers. “All centers train all of their call takers, with an average of 90 hours of training,” Collins says.
During the crisis call, the goal is those callers get the help that they need, hopefully through deescalated over the phone. Crisis counselors will also provide callers with follow-up services and resources.
A 2019 study of the crisis system in Tucson, from Arizona Complete Health showed that 80 percent of crisis-line calls were resolved without having the need to dispatch mobile crisis team, law enforcement, or emergency medical services. However, crisis counselors will be trained to determine if in-person help is necessary and will dispatch a mobile crisis unit in the caller’s area. The mobile crisis teams consist of behavioral health professionals. If a mobile crisis center not unavailable at the time in the caller’s area, a police response may be necessary.
There is no cost to call the new 988 phone number. Users will never be charged for calling the lifeline.