988: New national hotline for mental health launching mid-July

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — Starting July 16, a new national mental health hotline will be launched for operation in the United States.

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Similar to 911, 988 has been designated as the new three-digit dialing code that will route callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, according to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

When people call, text, or chat 988, they will be connected to trained counselors that are part of the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network. These trained counselors will listen, understand how their problems are affecting them, provide support, and connect them to resources if necessary.

The current Lifeline phone number (800) 273-8255 will always remain available to people in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, even after 988 is launched nationally.

Suicide is a leading cause of death in the U.S., according to statistics gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nearly 46,000 individuals died by suicide in the U.S. in 2020. Suicide rates increased 30% between 2000–2018, and declined in 2019 and 2020.

The number of people who think about or attempt suicide is even higher. The CDC reports that in 2020, an estimated 12.2 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.2 million planned a suicide attempt, and 1.2 million attempted suicide.

The next step is understanding how the states will pay for this new resource. Vibrant Emotional Health, the nonprofit administrator of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline awarded grants to 49 states and U.S. territories through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 988 State Planning Grant Initiative.

“Access to mental health and crisis support has never been more critical for Americans,” said Kimberly Williams, President and CEO of Vibrant Emotional Health. “Vibrant is committed to providing the states and U.S. territories with some of the resources they’ll need to plan for the implementation of 988 and to support their local crisis centers. By working together, we will increase access to care, reduce the stigma around mental health and, ultimately, save lives.”

In 2020, bipartisan legislation in Congress mandated the launch of the 988 emergency number; but left financial support for staffing, phone lines, computer systems and other infrastructure up to the states, and just four of them (Colorado, Nevada, Virginia and Washington) have begun plans for funding.

Despite this, the nonprofit administrator Vibrant Emotional Health is urging states to, “exercise their authority to implement a 988 fee, similar to the current 911 fee, that would be restricted to the crisis center and service provider expenses, to ensure a robust infrastructure.

To learn more about the 988 lifeline click here.

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Sydny Pepper, Action News Jax

Sydny Pepper is a digital reporter and content creator for Action News Jax.