We all grew up learning the emergency number 911. But with mental health issues rising in recent years, it was time to create simple access for those in crisis. So, starting July 16, a new federally mandated crisis number–988–will be available to all landline and cellphone users, much like the other famous three-digit one.
When someone dials 988, they will be directed to one of more than 200 crisis centers scattered across the country. From there, a caller will be routed to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, where a crisis counselor can provide counseling, resources for help or alert a mobile crisis unit to be dispatched if needed. You can even text the number to receive immediate assistance.
More from SwimLife
While the Lifeline has been in place since 2005, the hope is the simple number will raise more awareness and make it easier to get help. It’s already been proved that having access to a counselor helps callers feel less suicidal and depressed. More than 20 million people have used the original hotline since its inception.
This new option comes as suicide deaths are increasing at a staggering rate. According to CDC WONDER data, between 2010 and 2020, almost 500,000 people took their own lives in the U.S. During that same decade, the suicide death rate increased by 12%. And although there was a dip in the numbers in 2020, many fear the effects of the pandemic will lead to more in the future as more people experience mental health problems in its wake. In particular, adolescent suicide increased in six large U.S. states—Georgia, Indiana, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Virginia and California— during the pandemic, and over 42% of people surveyed by the U.S. Census Bureau in December 2021 reported symptoms of anxiety or depression. That was an increase from 11% the year before.
According to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the current phone number (1-800-273-8255) will still be available even after the 988 rollout. So it’s important to spread the word to ensure those seeking help know it’s readily available.