Taking effect a couple of weeks ago, in mid-July, 988 is the new three-digit dialing code connecting people to the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, where compassionate, accessible care and support are available for anyone experiencing mental health-related distress – whether that is thoughts of suicide, mental health or substance use crisis or any other kind of emotional distress. People can also dial 988 if they are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support.
Here are a few FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions – about the newly instituted service, with the information provided by SAMHSA, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Is this number only for suicide-related crises?
No, 988 is a number to call for suicide, mental health and substance use-related crises or any kind of emotional distress — not just suicide-related crises.
What is a mental health, substance use or suicide crisis?
A mental health or suicidal crisis is any situation in which a person’s behavior puts them at risk of hurting themselves or others and/or prevents them from being able to function well in the community.
For example, a person in crisis may experience one or more of the following: actively thinking about suicide or self-harm; erratic, unusual, risky or harmful behavior; delusions, paranoia or other psychotic symptoms; or extreme withdrawal from everyday life.
Can I only call or text 988 if I am experiencing a life-threatening crisis?
No, you can call or text 988 for yourself or a loved one if you are in any type of emotional distress.
However, if you are not in a crisis, there are other services that may meet your current needs better, including a peer-support Warmline for emotional support or the NAMI HelpLine (1-800-950-NAMI or firstname.lastname@example.org) for information, resources and support.
How can I reach 988? Only by phone?
You can call 988, text 988 or chat via the Lifeline’s website (988lifeline.org).
What happens when I call 988? What information will I receive, or does the Lifeline only offer immediate crisis support?
The goal of the 988 Lifeline is to provide free, confidential, immediate crisis intervention and support. When you call or text or chat 988: You’ll hear a message that you’ve reached the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – you are in the right place! If you are a veteran, you can press “1” to reach the Veterans’ Crisis Line or “2” to reach the Spanish subnetwork for the Lifeline.
If you don’t select either option, a trained crisis counselor will answer. The counselor will listen to you to understand how your problem is affecting you or your loved one.
The counselor will provide support and share resources and referrals.
In some communities, the crisis line may be able to connect you to additional services or follow up with you to ensure you’ve connected with care (note: not all communities have this capacity).
Can I only call 988 for myself, or can I call for someone else I know or see in crisis?
You can call or text 988 if you are concerned about someone else in distress who may need crisis support.
What languages are offered through 988?
The Lifeline currently provides live counseling services via phone in English and Spanish. Translation services are available in an additional 150 languages. Text and chat are currently available in English only.
Are there services available for a person who is hearing impaired?
In addition to text and chat services, teletype (TTY) is also available. TTY users can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 1-800-273-8255.
Will there be culturally competent support available?
As the workforce for the Lifeline network is being expanded, there are ongoing efforts to improve cultural competency training for Lifeline crisis counselors. However, as of now, not every counselor may have had this training.
Are there youth-specific supports available?
There is not a youth-specific hotline or dedicated crisis counselors for youth callers, although some states may have their own youth crisis line separate from the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline network. Regardless, staff are trained to support anyone in a crisis. Expanded Lifeline trainings are being implemented to ensure 988 call centers can provide appropriate, culturally competent care, specifically focused on communities that are at higher risk for suicide, including youth.
Will I be charged a 988 fee for calling the number?
No. The support and services received from 988 crisis counselors is provided free of charge. However, standard messaging and data rates may apply to those who text 988 from their mobile phone.
Do I need insurance to get help when dialing 988? Medicaid or Medicare?
No. The support and services received from the 988 crisis counselors is provided free of charge, regardless of whether you have health insurance coverage.
Will 988 show up as a call on my phone bill? Is a call record created?
It will depend on your phone service whether a call or text to 988 will show up on your phone bill. Contact your phone service provider to learn more about how calls to 1-800 and other toll-free lines appear on your bill.
Does 988 collect my information/data? What do they do with that information?
All contacts with the 988 Lifeline from people seeking help are confidential. According to the Lifeline FAQs, information about callers/chatters/texters will not be shared outside the Lifeline without documented verbal or written consent from the person seeking help, except in cases where there is imminent risk of harm to self or someone else, or where otherwise required by law. The Lifeline protects all the confidential and identifying information shared.
of people seeking help from the Lifeline.
Why are we getting 988?
988 “going live” marks the beginning of an easier way nationwide to access the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline through this easy-to-remember three-digit number. It also marks the formal expansion of the Lifeline to include helping people in mental health and substance use crises in addition to suicide crises.
The Lifeline has around 200 local call centers and national backup centers across the country to answer these calls.