New US suicide prevention hotline 988 launched

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This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

The new Suicide & Crisis Lifeline has transitioned from a 10-digit hotline to a three-digit emergency number: 988.

Launching Saturday, the lifeline for 24/7 crisis care also links to the Veteran Crisis Line.

"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," Health and Human Services (HHS) Sec. Xavier Becerra said in a statement. "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."

All telephone service and text providers nationwide are required by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to activate 988 no later than Saturday.

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The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act authorized 988 as a new three-digit number for suicide and mental health crisis and was signed into law by then-President Donald Trump after the passage of bipartisan legislation in 2020.

FCC staff first proposed 988 in a report to Congress in August 2019.

In a Friday release, HHS wrote that the Biden administration had increased investments in the 988 lifeline from $24 million to $432 million.

That money included more than $100 million in grant funding to states and territories 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.

The grant funding was provided by the American Rescue Plan.

"Recent investments made in the Lifeline have already resulted in more calls, chats, and texts answered even as volume has increased, but we know that too many people are still experiencing suicidal crisis or mental health-related distress without the support they need," Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, the HHS Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use and leader of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), said in her own statement. "Over time, the vision for 988 is to have additional crisis services available in communities across the country, much the way emergency medical services work."

Sustained funding will be necessary.

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The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a network of more than 200 state and local call centers.

It is supported by HHS through SAMHSA.

The Lifeline has existed since 2005. Last year, the Lifeline received 3.6 million calls, chats and texts – a number that is expected to at least double within the first full year after the 988 transition.

The 10-digit Lifeline number — 1-800-273-TALK (8255) — will continue to be operational after July 16 and will route calls to 988 indefinitely. The Veteran Crisis Line is also still accessible with the current phone number 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, or by chat or text to 838255.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. had one death by suicide every 11 minutes in 2020. It is a leading cause of death.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.