The national suicide prevention line is changing its number from 1-800-273-TALK(8255) to a three-digit number 988. The new three-digit code will be available to everyone in the United States and route people directly to the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. This change took effect this past Saturday, July 16th. The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020 included each state to pass and fund the crisis number 988 to serve the growing amount of mental health emergencies.
More than just the phone number is changing, however. There will be several changes regarding how the crisis line works, how it is funded, and the resources available. These changes will benefit healthcare, emergency, and law enforcement services by reducing the need for these areas. With the number of mental health crises and suicide rates increasing, the new changes will allow for improved coordination and outreach to communities in need.
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What is changing?
The number 988 is not just available for calling but also for texting and chatting, making it easy to connect to trained counselors that are a part of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Some areas already had access to the three-digit code 988 since October 2020 but starting July 16th the number will be available nationwide. The old number will remain active for people in a suicidal crisis or emotional distress.
This opportunity will change how mental health crises are handled and treated with additional funding and support from federal and state aid. The goals of these changes are to create universal and convenient access with public awareness, a high-quality experience personalized for the individual calling, and the ability to connect those in need to valuable resources and follow-ups in their community.
While federal and state funding will be given to Lifeline, each state is encouraged to implement a 988 fee similar to 911 calling fees. While not all states or areas participate in 911 fees, the ones that do are to use the money to support the infrastructure and resources for services. Similarly, 988 fees are to be used as an investment for much-needed mental health crises to fund resources. These newer funded resources will help focus on unique at-risk groups such as LGTBQA+, BIPOC, youth, and rural communities. Fees vary on the area, reason for the call, and response.
Why is it changing?
The Federal Communications Commission has made it a requirement for telephone providers to make 988 an accessible phone number for Lifeline by July 16th, 2022. A universal dialing code will increase the accessibility of life-saving interventions and make it an easier to access resource.
In October 2020, a federal law was passed designating 988 as the three-digit number for the Lifeline, which was a triumphant outcome by activists in the mental health community to increase accessibility for people in mental health or suicidal crisis.
The push to change the number stems from other easy-to-access and remembers such as 911 (for emergency services), 311 (non-emergency government services), and 711 (hearing and speech impaired translation services).
The suicide rate in the United States is increasing significantly, especially amongst the younger population. One in five people above the age of 12 in America has a mental health condition, and suicide is the second leading cause of death in younger people. Mental health crisis services have been underfunded and overlooked, which is why the three-digit number 988 and its assistance are now being implemented so people can get the help they deserve.
What does this mean for nurses and healthcare?
According to Vibrant, the administrator of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, due to the accessibility of resources from the number change will decrease traffic in law enforcement and healthcare. With an effectively promoted crisis line, people can connect with trained counselors to address their needs and help them with ongoing care.
These changes are expected to help millions of people by calling, chatting, and texting this new number for emergency assistance with mental health. The incoming calls or texts are typically resolved by trained specialists, and the ones that aren’t can send resources to the caller or have them get further assistance through mental health care centers.
When people are helped appropriately in a crisis, it means a reduced cost in healthcare spending and reduced use of public health and safety resources. This move will reduce the inflow going into the emergency department and will free up nurses and other healthcare staff to tend to other emergencies.
With 988 fully implemented, it will divert calls from 911 and emergency room visits due to mental health crises. Providing support through 988 will route resources to the person in crisis, allowing cost savings for emergency systems nationally.
The changes are to help implement and support programs for clinical standards to allow access to care. For nurses and healthcare staff in mental health and substance abuse facilities, this means patients reporting to mental health facilities through the 988 Lifeline will have used resources appointed to them in their local communities. Public and mental health agencies will be collaborating with new crisis centers through developed plans to coordinate care while maintaining capacity and funding.