I’m excited about this development, which (so far) seems to have gotten less publicity than one might expect. Starting today, 988 is a new nationwide telephone number for free mental health crisis support in the United States.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) has been rebranded as the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. You can reach your nearest crisis center by calling or texting the new three-digit number, 24 hours a day. You don’t have to be thinking about suicide to use this service, and you can call if you’re trying to help someone else, too.
The lifeline fielded 2.6 million calls in 2021.
Update: Some activists have pointed out that 988 operators may sometimes send emergency services—including police officers—to a caller’s location against their wishes. Perversely, this practice may itself endanger lives, trigger mental health crises, and result in involuntary confinement or criminalization of people seeking help.
From what I can tell, the 988 system, unlike 911, does not yet have access to precise geolocation technology. However, the 988 Lifeline’s FAQ says that “currently, 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 Lifeline call. In these cases, the crisis counselor shares information with 911 that is crucial to saving the caller’s life. … Currently, fewer than 2% of Lifeline calls require connection to emergency services like 911.”
Sadly, this may be important information for using the 988 Lifeline safely.