‘Just dial 988’: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to get a new number this July

For nearly two decades those in crisis have been able to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), but soon that number will be joined with a simple 988 dial. The new shortcut, approved by Congress more than two years ago, will be implemented on July 16 and is positioned as an alternative to 911 for mental health emergencies. Dr. Jonathan Goldfinger, CEO of Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, explains the history of suicide prevention hotlines and the potential for 988 to save even more lives.

Video Transcript


JONATHAN GOLDFINGER: Once upon a time, 911 was implemented. And it took a long time, at least 20 or 30 years, for people to kind of really bring it online nationally, everywhere. Now we just take it for granted. Medical emergency, you know, call 911. But what happens if it's a mental health emergency?

2005, I believe, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline came to being. It was largely based on work that Didi Hirsch and other thought leaders in this space had done to create these types of suicide prevention hotlines. And the Lifeline ever since has grown. Now it's about 190-plus local crisis centers, kind of community mental health providers in your backyard, who are able to be there any time, 24/7, when you call the 800 number, 1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-273-TALK.

For the longest time, the Lifeline kind of had a branding issue where people didn't really know who we were to begin with. You know, when you call a 1-800 number, you think you're calling some call center and maybe outsourced out of the United States even, right? And we were finally able to convince the federal government that you needed an easy-to-remember number, three digits, similar to 911.

So come July 16, you will be able to call 988 where trained, highly trained counselors and teams of professionals will be there to support you if you're calling about yourself or about a loved one in a mental health crisis with thoughts or actions related to suicide. And what's really important to recognize is 988 is not that operator that you call that then triages within 20 seconds. We're actually the ambulance.

We're just that good at saving your life. So both for the policymakers and for the public, if they understand what it is and they can just call that number, it will save lives.