Person talking on the phone.

Access to medical and crisis assistance took a hit since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. To aid those with thoughts of suicide or other mental health emergencies, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline becomes 988.

Who do you call when you have a mental health emergency? Do you want focused mental health care available for an immediate crisis? Mental health crises have been on the rise since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The world faced shutdowns, massive changes to employment levels, shortages, and an enormous shift in the availability of mental health assistance. Like all else, access to medical and crisis assistance took a hit, primarily due to staffing issues while combating an intensely rising rate of mental health emergencies.

 If you live in the US, you have likely heard of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. This hotline has been very helpful in actively aiding those suffering from thoughts of suicide. That lifeline is now referred to as the 988 Lifeline, or the Lifeline or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. As of July 16, 2022, there is a new phone number to call in case of a mental health emergency. In an emergency, call or text 988 or chat on their website at How simple is that? Help is at the tip of your fingers.

This change will take over as the primary contact phone number for the suicide help hotline, but the original ten-digit number will still exist. The Lifeline will not take the place of the Veterans’ crisis line. In fact, a Veteran or a family member can call 988 and press “1”, which will connect them immediately to the Veteran’s Crisis Line (VCL). The VCL is staffed with members of the Veteran’s Administration, trained specifically to assist Veterans and can connect them to the local VA medical center. Many positive changes are coming from this new number, but the necessary access to care is still a standard.

In addition to the change in the phone number, the hotline will now expand from just suicide prevention to include help with substance abuse and all other mental health emergencies. 988 will allow those in need to remain anonymous while still getting them the help they need. Calls will be directed to local call centers based on the area code of the callers only. As with all call centers, calls may be recorded for quality and training purposes. There may be an instance where the caller needs to be transferred to 911, who can track the caller based on their physical location if there is an imminent risk of harm to themselves. While they will be separate, 911 and 988 can work together if a caller needs to be transferred to the other emergency line. Another significant aspect is that someone can call on behalf of another person who may be experiencing an emergency but can not or does not want to call the line themselves.

One concerning factor with this change is that not all lifeline functions will be available in all areas. However, you can dial 988 anywhere in the country, and someone will answer the call. It just may not be in the area you live in. The phone number will still connect you to the national suicide prevention hotline. Overall, this lifeline does increase the range of help for those in a crisis.

A possible downside of this increase in nationwide care is that the lifeline will likely be understaffed. Community and local call centers can only manage calls based on how many team members they have. Volunteers will be needed to handle the increase in call volume. In addition to having enough people, the members need to be adequately trained to handle the delicate situations that can arise. Risk Assessment and Imminent Risk intervention training will be mandatory, but each local center may also require additional training. Because of the necessary training, it will take time before 988 is ready and able to handle all our country is going through.  

With numerous mental health emergencies, suicides, and drug use and abuse on the rise, how is 988 going to be able to handle the call volume? As a nation, we can only hope that more people will step up to assist. When we call 911, we expect someone to be available. We should feel the same way about the 988 lines. We should always be able to have enough staffing to handle emergencies. Regardless of what type of emergency, be it mental, physical, or other, help should always be available. Now it can be. 

To learn more about the new 988 Lifeline, click here.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, is struggling with drug addiction, or having a mental health emergency, please call one of the following anytime, 24/7:

(988) 988 Lifeline

(1-800-273-8255) National Suicide Prevention

(988) then press “1” for the Veteran’s Crisis Line