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988 Suicide Prevention Hotline Launches Nationwide

The service is available 24/7, with over 200 crisis call centers

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Beginning Saturday, July 16, anyone contemplating suicide or experiencing emotional distress may call, text or chat the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline to speak with a trained counselor who can provide support and connect them to local resources if necessary.

Like the 911 emergency service, the number is staffed 24/7 nationwide, with a network of over 200 state and local crisis call centers.

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Legislation was signed in 2020 to replace a 10-digit hotline with the easy-to-remember three-digit number. The law required all telephone service and text providers to activate the 988 service no later than July 16, 2022.

Many crisis call centers experienced challenges in preparing for the transition. A June 2022 RAND study found that out of 180 behavioral health program directors surveyed, about half reported their agency had been involved in strategic planning related to 988. Others said their most common challenges were an insufficient mental health workforce and lack of funding, despite a $432 million investment from the federal government.

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Consequently, if a caller does not connect to their designated Lifeline center in an appropriate amount of time, the call will be routed to a backup center. Additionally, calls from cell phones will reach the center associated with the phone number’s area code, regardless of the person’s geographic location, officials from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) told reporters.

“It took over five decades for 911 and emergency medical services to grow and expand across the nation. With the 988 Lifeline, we are poised for a much faster transformation,” said an HHS official at a background press briefing. “But we also know that we’re on a journey, not a sprint.”

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Suicide rates in the U.S.

In 2020, about 12.2 million adults seriously thought about suicide and 1.2 million attempted suicide, resulting in 45,979 deaths, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, people age 85 and older have the highest suicide rates.

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Veterans have a higher risk of committing suicide than the rest of the U.S. population. Former service members ages 55 to 74 have more incidence of suicide than any other age group, according to a 2020 report from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Veterans who dial 988 may press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line and speak with a responder trained in crisis intervention and military culture. The line is also available by chat at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat or by text at 838255.

In 2021, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline received 3.6 million calls, chats and texts — a figure that is expected to at least double in the next year. The service said it has received over 20 million calls from people in distress since 2005.

Meanwhile, the traditional 10-digit phone number, 800-273-8255, remains active.

If you would like to volunteer or work for the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, you may search the opportunities listed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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