Beginning on July 16, you can call or text 988 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It’s a new way to reach free, live support if you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide, a mental health or substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress.
The Lifeline has been around since 2005 at (800) 273-8255 (TALK), and you will still be able to reach it 24/7 at that number. This new three-digit calling code will just make it easier to remember and dial.
When You Call 988
If you call 988, you’ll first hear a greeting message that will give you options to connect to the Veterans Crisis Line, access help in Spanish, or remain on the line while your call is routed to your local Lifeline network crisis center. This is based on your area code.
If your local crisis center is unable to answer, your call will go to another Lifeline center. Around 200 independent, locally owned and operated crisis centers work in the Lifeline network, and there are plans to expand and improve the network with the launch of 988.
Once your call is routed, a trained counselor will answer the phone. They will listen, provide support, and share resources if needed. Their main goal is to support you in your moment of distress.
If they feel you are in danger, the counselor may discuss connecting you to local emergency services like 911, but first they will do everything they can to help you with a less invasive plan to keep you safe. Fewer than 2% of Lifeline calls involve local emergency services and more than half of those are with the caller’s consent.
When You Online Chat or Text 988
If you prefer to chat with a counselor on a computer, go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat. The Lifeline has provided online chat services since 2013 and these will continue after the launch of 988.
Before you begin the chat, you’ll be asked to fill out a quick survey to share a little bit about yourself, your main struggle and how you’re feeling. This will help your counselor best support you from the start of your conversation. You’ll see a message while you wait for a crisis counselor to join your chat.
A counselor will answer your chat as soon as one is available. They will ask you questions about your safety, feelings, social situation, and if you have any thoughts of suicide. If needed, the chat counselor will work with you to create a safety plan or contact local emergency services.
If there is a long wait to chat with someone, you’ll get a message to let you know. While you wait, you can check out online resources from the Lifeline, which are linked on the chat webpage, or call 988 to speak with someone right away. The chat’s busiest times are between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. EST.
Starting July 16, you can also text 988 from your cell phone. A counselor from a Lifeline crisis center will respond. They may or may not be local. In the next few years texting service will grow to include more local crisis centers.
No matter how you access 988, the goal is to help ease your stress and give you tools to make healthy choices.
Not Only for Suicide Prevention
988 isn’t just for suicide concerns. It’s also a resource for anyone who is going through a crisis related to substance use or mental health, and anyone worried about a loved one who may need support.
“Anyone who is depressed, going through a hard time, needs to talk, or is thinking about suicide” can contact 988, according to the Lifeline’s website. The website states that counselors “are here to listen and support you through whatever difficult times you may be facing.”
Free and Confidential
Any time you reach out to 988, your calls, texts and chats will be confidential. This means that your information will not be shared without your consent, unless your or someone else’s safety is in immediate danger.
Your chats with 988 are secured with the same data protection standards that major financial institutions use. Anything you type to a counselor is encrypted from your computer to theirs.
You do not need to provide any personal information in order to use 988. Anytime someone asks you for personal data it will only be used to connect you to ongoing support or to help Lifeline improve its services. Your information will never be sold.
The U.S. government funds 988 and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, making it free for anyone to use. Your phone company may charge you standard rates for texts and calls.
More Support With 988
Within the first full year of 988, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) expects the number of calls, chats, and texts to the Lifeline to nearly double.
The federal government has put $177 million into strengthening and expanding the Lifeline network during this transition, and awarded $105 million in grants to 54 states and territories to improve their local response as calls and messages increase. Despite the money, some areas of the U.S. are more prepared than others, a report from RAND Corp. suggested.
“We are at the start of a transition, not the end, and there is still a lot of work to be done,” John Palmieri, MD, acting director of SAMHSA’s 988 and Behavioral Health Crisis Coordination Office, said in a statement. “We expect 988 will continue to grow and evolve in the coming months, as more states start to step up.”