The 988 hotline is exclusively to tackle mental health issues and those contacting the helpline will be assigned trained counselors.
America now has a new helpline to cater to those who are having a mental health emergency—988. The new "Suicide & Crisis Lifeline" is designed to connect people who are having thoughts of suicide or experiencing a mental health crisis with a trained mental health professional. You can simply call or text the numbers 9-8-8 to access mental health support. The new helpline is modeled to tackle some of the issues that plagued the 911 line, especially for those with mental health issues. Left waiting for hours to get care or interacting with law enforcement can be traumatic for those seeking help. "If you are willing to turn to someone in your moment of crisis, 988 will be there," said Xavier Becerra, the secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, reported NPR. "988 won't be a busy signal, and 988 won't put you on hold. You will get help."
A majority of people experiencing mental health issues call 911 to seek help but that number wasn't originally designed to tackle mental health issues and has led to a system that doesn't have the resources to tackle the crisis. Those seeking help were left waiting in a busy emergency room, waiting for hours to days to get the care they desperately needed. In some cases, they were forced to talk to law enforcement who are not trained to handle mental health crises. Interaction with law enforcement can also be traumatic for those seeking help. The new helpline is designed to make mental health support more accessible. The Biden administration has already invested $432 million to help set up more crisis centers and other mental health services to support the 988 system. Lawmakers and mental health advocates believe this could help improve the the mental health care system.
The new helpline will also use the existing support network of crisis call centers, which are more than 200 in number across the country. From now on, those who dial the the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline—1-800-273-8255—will be redirected to 988. Those seeking help will be connected with a trained counselor at a crisis center closest to them. If the crisis center is overloaded and unable to respond, the call will get redirected to one of the other 16 backup centers. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has been an effective manner in helping those with mental health issues. "We know that close to 90% of people who call get what they need from the phone call," says Chuck Ingoglia, CEO of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. The remaining 10% require additional help which can come in the form of in-person care or other trained counselors reaching out to them. The new support network bolstered by investment to back 988 could also see more calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline being tended to. A 2021 report by SAMHSA found that the system is able to respond to only 85% of calls, 56% of texts and 30% of chats. "They've been operating on shoestring for many, many years," said John Draper, the executive director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Mental health advocates are hoping to raise awareness of the existence of the 988 helpline so it becomes a safer alternative. "Unlike other medical emergencies, mental health crises overwhelmingly result in a law enforcement response," says psychologist Benjamin Miller, president of Well Being Trust. "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."
Law enforcement dealing with mental health issues has led to more to more than "2 million people with serious mental illness were booked in jail" last year, said Miller, before adding that nearly a quarter of fatal shootings by the police in recent years have involved people with mental illness. The introduction of the 988 helpline will help bring down the cases of confrontation between cops and those with mental health issues and provide them with the help they deserve. The helpline has been in the works for a few years now and was the joint effort of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Donald Trump signed the bipartisan law to help create the new helpline in 2020.
If you are thinking about suicide or require mental health support, please call 988 to get help.