July 25, 2022
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline officially transitioned to a simple 3-digit number on July 16, 2022. Anybody can now call or text the 988 lifeline if they, or somebody they know, is having thoughts of suicide, or experiencing a behavioral health or substance use-related crisis. Users of the lifeline can also access help via live chat at 988lifeline.org. For those in crisis, 988 will serve as a universal entry point so that no matter where patients live, they can reach a trained crisis counselor who can help.
The 988 number will make mental health help more accessible for individuals in need, especially during the pandemic. It will also improve responses to people experiencing a behavioral health crisis and reduce overreliance on law enforcement officers who may not be appropriately trained to respond in such circumstances.
Crisis counselors will be trained to assess and de-escalate crises over the phone, connect callers to additional services, and in some locations, where available, dispatch mobile crisis teams to situations that require an immediate, in-person response. Counselors will also work closely with local emergency responders, including 911 and law enforcement, to route calls when incidents require more than a behavioral health response.
It is hoped that this new easy-to-remember 988 number, and the national attention it has received, will encourage more people to seek the help they need. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says it expects the volume of calls to double in the first year of its launch.
In California, 988 callers will be directed to one of 13 lifeline crisis call centers based on area code. If a local crisis center is unable to take the call, the caller is directed to a national backup crisis center. Services are provided in both English and Spanish and translation services are available in over 250 additional languages.
The 988 dialing code is just a first step toward strengthening and transforming crisis care in this country. California envisions a crisis care continuum where all people have access to preventative mental health and substance use behavioral health services, 24/7 crisis response services, and stabilization services to provide follow up behavioral health care.
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