What To Know About The New Mental Health Crisis Hotline

As of July 2022, those suffering a mental health crisis can now call 988 instead of 911. With the uptick of mental health emergencies, ranging anywhere from suicide ideation to panic attacks and other issues that were further exacerbated during 2020, mostly in part to the pandemic, the Federal Communications Commission decided that a three-digit number was necessary (via 988 Lifeline).


"Unlike other medical emergencies, mental health crises overwhelmingly result in a law enforcement response," psychologist and president of Well Being Trust Benjamin Miller tells NPR. "If you look at the data from the police, about 20% of their total staff time is spent responding and transporting individuals who are experiencing a mental health crisis ... [last year alone] two million people with serious mental illness were booked in jail."

As we've seen, the police just aren't cut out for handling mental health crises. In many cases, their way of de-escalating a situation is to arrest the person or worse. The hope is having trained professionals on the other end of 988 will give people a place to call without the fear of what will happen to them if they call 911 — which was what some did, as the original National Suicide Prevention Lifeline was a 10-digit number. No one should ever be arrested or lose their life because they struggle with mental illness.


If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

How does 988 work and who are you calling

Technically, 988 and its services are nothing new. It's just the 10-digit number that, if you're lucky enough to remember it, will reroute you to the counselors at 988 — the same counselors that have been working the phones before 988 was set up.


When you call the new three-digit number, the counselor on the other end of the phone will listen, offer the support you need, and ideally come up with a plan to make sure you stay out of harm's way (via Prevention). In some cases, the person having a mental health crisis will be told to go to the hospital or their nearest crisis center if it's apparent that talking isn't enough. While in other cases, when talking is enough, the issue can be temporarily resolved until the person in need of help can see their therapist or psychologist.

"Having an anonymous opportunity to speak to someone who knows what they're talking about, who won't be scared when you say, 'I don't know what to do, I'm thinking of hurting myself' — this is an extraordinary option," chair of the American Psychiatric Association's Council on Healthcare Systems and Financing Dr. Robert Trestman tells The New York Times.


It's important for people to realize that no matter their mental health issue, big or small, there's a place to call that will offer support and resources that can help. Or just offer an ear to listen. A lot of times, people aren't sure where to turn or who they can talk to about what's going on in their mind. 

Why 988 so important

Mental health issues, as well as suicide, have become a serious public health concern across the country. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people between 10 and 14, and 25 and 34. In 2020, suicide made its way into the top 10 leading causes of death in the U.S. — being ninth on the list — for those aged 10 to 64 (via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Having a three-digit number on hand that can easily be called without the fear of the police showing up is paramount in saving lives.


"We believe strongly that people who are in a mental health crisis deserve a mental health response, not a criminal justice response," the national director of government relations, policy, and advocacy at the National Alliance on Mental Illness tells Popsugar.

It's important to make the people who are calling know that they're not alone, that someone is there for them, and that suicide is never, ever the answer. The hope is that 988 can truly make a difference in the lives of those who are struggling with all types of mental illness issues.