988 – The new crisis line for mental health

The new 3-digit phone number for mental health is expected to come fully online in 2022. Here’s what you need to know…

Update, July 17, 2020: FCC unanimously approves 988 requiring all phone carriers to update by July 16, 2022.

Until that time, get help by calling 1-800-273-8255

What is 988?

In August of 2018, Congress passed the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act instructing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to examine what measures would be needed (and how much those measures would cost!) to enhance the operation of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL), specifically with attention given to using a 3-digit dialing code. After many months of number crunching and investigation, the FCC introduced the possibility of using 988 for the NSPL. Rather than people needing to memorize 1-800-273-8255, all they would need to dial is 988! This 988 number would operate in the same way as other 3-digit numbers, such as 911. With this move, 988 would incorporate the NSPL into an umbrella of mental health services. Bottom Line: this number will serve as a hub for a wide variety of mental health concerns, not simply those who are struggling with suicidality.

Why is 988 needed?

In 2017, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported more than 47,000 Americans died from suicide and more than 1.4 million adults attempted suicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 1999 to 2016, suicide deaths increased in 49 of the 50 states. Even more troubling, in over half those states, the increase was greater than 20%. The largest increase was seen between 2016 and 2017, with an increase of 3.7%, in other words, more than 2,000 additional suicide deaths were recorded. Suicide in the United States is currently at its highest level since World War II.

In short, we believe that designating the 988 code for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline system is highly likely to lower suicide mortality risk in the United States by more than 0.13% in the first year and 0.04% in the second year, and thus that the benefits of this action are quite likely to outweigh the costs. ​

Suicide is rarely about death. Most people who consider suicide don’t want to die. They seek to end the intense pain with which they live. We know that through means restriction and access to professional intervention, suicide is preventable. With expanded free and confidential access through 988, we believe that more people can be helped.

When will 988 come online?

The short answer: not for about 2 more years. Headquarters, Inc. reached out to the FCC and according to their Attorney Advisor, the FCC is in a Public Comment period concerning this proposal. Following the public comment period, the FCC will put the order into effect. The FCC estimates that from the time the order is effective—perhaps, mid-2020—there will be an additional 18 months for telecommunications carriers and interconnected VoIP service providers to make any changes and updates to their networks to facilitate callers dialing 988 to reach the NSPL crisis network consisting of approx 160 centers across the country. Headquarters, Inc. is the crisis center serving all counties in Kansas.

How will 988 work?

With the FCC notice of proposed rulemaking, we anticipate the 988 systems will work just as the current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline works, when a call is placed to the 988 network, the call will be routed by area code to the caller’s local crisis center.

What does this mean for Kansas?

The FCC estimates that centers will see a 100% increase in call volume within the first year of the 3-digit dialing code implementation. In Kansas, that’s an additional 14,000-15,000 callers each year! As the only crisis center serving all 105 counties in Kansas, Headquarters Counseling Center will need a large, enthusiastic and energized group of volunteer counselors to answer the phones so that all Kansans who need help can get help. If you are interested in helping others, please learn more about our volunteer counselor program by clicking here.

References can be found:

FCC Fact Sheet, Implementation of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Improvement Act of 2018

Report on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Improvement Act of 2018


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