Starting July 16, you’ll be able to call 988 if you’re experiencing a mental health crisis. The new national mental health hotline is launching next month across the country, and was designed as an easy-to-remember, three-digit number to connect callers to trained mental health counselors.
Soon, people will be able to call, text or chat 988 and be connected to trained counselors in their state who are part of the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network (1-800-273-8255), which was founded in 2005. Dialing 988 does not connect you to 911—it will not notify police. Instead, counselors will listen, provide support and connect callers to other resources if needed.
But most states still don’t have funding to support the new service.
That means that calls may go unanswered, or callers may need to sit on hold for long periods of time while they wait for a transfer. But when people are in crisis, every minute counts.
The new service is intended to improve access to mental health services as the rates of anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions continue to climb—among all age groups, but especially among youth. In 2021, the AAP declared the youth mental health crisis a national emergency.
And suicide is the second leading cause of death among kids ages 10 to 14, according to data from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Bipartisan legislation for the 988 emergency number was passed by Congress in 2020, but the legislation left financial support for staffing and infrastructure such as phone lines and computer systems up to individual states. And the majority of states aren’t prepared.
Now, experts and advocates are concerned that the call centers won’t have the necessary staffing or infrastructure to properly support an increasing number of people in crisis.
“We have all of the technology,” said Jennifer Piver, the executive director of Mental Health America of Greenville County in South Carolina says to NBC. “We do not have the funding for staff, for salaries.”
Help can’t wait
A recent survey by Rand Corporation found that more than half of public health officials in charge of launching the 988 line said they felt unprepared and were without necessary financing, staffing or infrastructure to launch the service.
“Our results show that there is room for improvement with respect to strategic planning, financial preparedness, and the availability of services and system coordination. These findings highlight areas of need that will be relevant for jurisdictions to address both prior to the launch of 988 in July 2022 and in the months that follow,” write the survey authors.
According to NBC, just four states—Colorado, Nevada, Virginia and Washington—have enacted comprehensive funding plans for the new service. In the states that have not allocated enough funds or staffing, once the national lines open on July 16, calls that aren’t able to be managed by a state call center may be routed to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or to other states.
But that means people in urgent crisis might have to wait to get the help they need. “If we don’t have the folks to answer the phone, time is an issue,” says Piver, adding that people in mental health emergencies who are strong enough to call for help need help quickly. “Are they going to stay on the phone that long to make sure they get routed to someone? The minutes do matter.”
If you’re interested in receiving training to become a crisis center volunteer or paid employee, you can apply at samhsa.gov/988-jobs
Important Note: 988 is not currently active. If you are experiencing a crisis, text “HOME” to 741741 or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.