On Saturday, July 16, the U.S. transitioned the 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to 988 – an easier-to-remember three-digit number for 24/7 crisis care. The time of more than 200 state and local call centers funded by HHS through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).  In 2021, the Lifeline received 3.6 million calls, chats, and texts.  That number is expected to at least double within the first full year after the 988 transition.

“988 is more than a number, it is a message: we’re there for you.  Through this and other actions, we are treating mental health as a priority and putting crisis care in reach for more Americans,” said Secretary Becerra, who has been meeting with states across the country about the transition to 988 as part of HHS’ National Tour to Strengthen Mental Health.  “There is still much work to do.  But what matters is that we’re launching, 988 will be live.  We are looking to every governor and every state in the nation to do their part to make this a long-term success.”

The U.S. had one death by suicide every 11 minutes in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Suicide was the second leading cause of death for young people aged 10-14 and 25-34.  From April 2020 to 2021, more than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses.  Studies have shown that after speaking with a trained crisis counselor, most Lifeline callers are significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful.

Federal investments in the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline have increased 18-fold from $24 million to $432 million to scale up crisis centers and back-up center capacity, and to provide special services, including a sub-network for Spanish language speakers.

The $432 million included $105 million in grant funding to states and territories, provided by the American Rescue Plan, to improve response rates, increase capacity to meet future demand, and ensure calls initiated in their states or territories are first routed to local, regional, or state crisis call centers.  Prior to this investment, the Lifeline, which has existed since 2005, had been historically unfunded and under-resourced.

VA administers the Veterans Crisis Line through the Lifeline’s national network. Because of VA’s partnership with the Lifeline, the Veterans Crisis Line is affected by this transition to a new number.  Veterans and their loved ones can now dial 988 then press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.

“988 has been a long time coming and will serve as a critical resource during a crisis when every second counts. The new, shorter number will help ensure Veterans have easier access to the Veterans Crisis Line,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough.  “This launch is a whole-of-government approach in line with the President’s call to prioritize mental health by strengthening access to crisis services, and preventing Veteran suicide, our top clinical priority.”
The 10-digit Lifeline number 1-800-273-TALK (8255) continues to be operational and will route calls to 988 indefinitely.  Veterans, service members, and their families can also still reach the Veterans Crisis Line with the current phone number 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, or by chat or text to 838255.

To learn more about the FCC’s role in the 988 transition, visit fcc.gov/988.  More information on 988 is available at www.samhsa.gov/988 and https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/988/faqs

Story By

Heather Niday

Heather is our Program Director and Traffic Manager. She started with Allegheny Mountain Radio as a volunteer deejay. She then joined the AMR staff in February of 2007. Heather grew up in the Richmond, Virginia, area and now lives in Arbovale, West Virginia with her husband Chuck. Heather is a wonderful flute player, and choir director for Arbovale UMC. You can hear Heather along with Chuck on Tuesday nights from 6 to 8pm as they host two hours of jazz on Something Different.

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