988: A Step Toward More Specialized Support for Individuals Experiencing a Mental Health Crisis
The need for specialized support is on the rise
Research shows that over the past three years, alcohol, drug, and death by suicide rates have increased by nearly 20% across the United States. As of 2020, suicide was listed as the 12th leading cause of death in the United States, and the second leading cause of death for youth and young adults, ages 10-34, indicating that the need for dedicated mental health intervention is overdue and deeply essential.
Previous interventions for individuals in crisis included calls to 911, which often resulted in the involvement of police. Because police are not specially trained in mental health crisis intervention, more specialized support for this population was warranted. Mental health lifelines alleviate thousands of crisis calls from 911 each year and result in only 2% of intervention needed from further emergency services. Historical documentation shows that individuals in crisis who engage in calls to lifelines show better outcomes than those who have been triaged by emergency services personnel.
Addressing the need for specialized support
As you may have heard, 988 is the new three-digit dialing code connecting people across the United States to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, where compassionate, accessible care and support is available for anyone experiencing mental health-related distress, completely free of charge.
This Lifeline creates a resource and safe space for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. In fact, a 2013 study of callers in crisis showed 98% success in de-escalation, and self-report from callers indicated that nearly 80% were stopped from dying by suicide and 90% reported increased feelings of safety.
Common questions about 988, answered
To support you in navigating this resource, we have created a quick reference guide with information provided by SAMHSA.
Call 988 if:
- You reside in a U.S. state, territory, or tribal district.
- You are experiencing mental health-related distress, including thoughts of suicide, mental health or substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress.
- You are concerned about a loved one who is experiencing mental health-related distress, including thoughts of suicide, mental health or substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress.
What happens when you call 988:
- You will first hear a greeting message while your call is routed to the local Lifeline network crisis center, based on your area code.
- If your local crisis center is unable to take the call, you will automatically be routed to a national backup crisis center.
- A trained crisis counselor will answer the phone, listen to you, work to understand the problem and its effect, provide support, and share resources if needed.
- A small percentage of Lifeline calls require activation of the 911 system when there is imminent risk to someone’s life that cannot be reduced during the call. In these cases, the crisis counselor will share information with 911 that is crucial to saving the caller’s life.
Outcomes to calling:
- Lifeline callers are more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful after speaking to a Lifeline crisis counselor.
- If intervention outside the call is warranted, crisis center staff work through active engagement to provide support and assistance for people at risk in the least restrictive setting possible.
- Currently, fewer than 2% of Lifeline calls require connection to emergency services like 911.
- Phone services are in English and Spanish and use Language Line Solutions to provide translation services in over 250 languages.
- The Lifeline currently serves TTY users either through their preferred relay service or by dialing 711 then 1-800-273-8255. Lifeline also offers services through chat and text. Lifeline is in the process of expanding to video phone service to better serve deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals seeking help through the Lifeline/988.
- The Lifeline continues to work toward the creation of specific tools for crisis counselors, such as Spanish-language clinical guidance resources, deaf and hard-of- hearing best practices for callers/chat visitors, an LGBTQ+ guidance document, a Native American/Alaskan Native tip sheet, and more.
How to support the expansion of care
While the creation and implementation of 988 is a significant step in the right direction, there is more work to be done. Advocacy efforts continue to be essential to expand funding for this lifesaving service at the local, state, and federal levels. Expansion of funding will work to ensure that call centers can link callers to a full continuum of care in collaboration with 911 and emergency services when needed by giving callers someone to talk to, someone to provide mobile crisis response, and somewhere to go for further stabilization. With so much work to be done, individuals can make a big difference.
How you can support 988:
- Sign up to be an American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (ASFP) Field Advocate.
- Go to the AFSP Action Center to learn what bills related to crisis care AFSP supports and contact your legislators.
- Become educated about AFSP’s position on crisis lines and the crisis response system.
If you are struggling, we encourage you to reach out for support.