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5 things to know about 988

Understanding the new, shorter phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

988 is a shorter way to access the already live National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

From the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website: “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.”

While the shorter number is new and easier to remember, particularly in moments of crisis, the services attached to 988 have been operating since 01 January, 2005.

Less than 2% of calls to 988 lead to police interactions; with about half of that 2% described as having consented to having emergency services contacted

While yes, 1% of calls leading to non-consensual police interaction indicates this is an infrequent occurrence, the risk of this is not 0. Prior to contacting 988, it’s important to know that some risk of police interaction does exist — especially for Black and Brown people who historically have been the targets of police violence.

In many cases, an individual who calls 988 in a moment of crisis will receive kind, compassionate support and suggestions for local resources. However, in some more dire moments of crisis, 911 may be contacted opening to possibility of police interaction, hospitalization, or other interventions.

Location information isn’t mandatory or automatically recorded

When you call 988, you are directed to a call center based on the area code of your number. For instance, if I have a Pittsburgh based phone number, but live in New York, dialing 988 would direct me to a Pittsburgh area call center, not New York.

988 is not your only option if you are seeking support

While 988 is easy to remember and share, it’s not the only mental health support tool available for someone in crisis (or near crisis). For example, LGBTQ+ teens can contact Trevor Project by calling 866 488 7386 or texting START to 678 678. Trans Lifeline provides a peer support phone service run by trans people for trans and questioning peers by calling 877 565 8860.

There are also peer-support networks like Peer Support Space which exist outside of systems like 988 and “use our lived experience to support and hold space for one another as we navigate our unique journeys with life struggles, mental illness and/or substance misuse challenges, neurodivergence, disability, grief, trauma, or other obstacles to mental wellness.”

988 is a start, but not a perfect solution

The United States is far from a perfect example of what it means to provide quality, accessible, intersectional mental health care and support. In fact, many americans who want mental health support, can’t find it, can’t afford it, or are simply going unsupported.

Despite the pitfalls of our systems, something is better than nothing. 988 is something, but not a perfect solution. Fortunately, funding and efforts to improve 988 continue, as calls are expected to increase by 14% annually from the more than 3.3 million contacts that were made with the 988 network in 2020.

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Joshua Lavra

Joshua Lavra

focused on human ways to support the health and happiness of young queer people @Hopelab. formerly @IDEO @EY_Doberman @AirLiquideGroup