UPDATE (07/18/2022): The United States’ first nationwide three-digit mental health crisis hotline went live on July 16. It’s designed to be as easy to remember and use as 911, but instead of a dispatcher sending police, firefighters or paramedics, 988 will connect callers with trained mental health counselors.
The switch will not do away with the old National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number. Both 988 and 1-800-273-8255 will connect to the same suicide prevention hotline.
A tweet posted June 6 that has since gotten nearly 40,000 retweets alerted people that the suicide prevention lifeline number would change in July. According to the screenshot in the tweet, the number would change from 800-273-8255 to 988.
One of VERIFY’s followers on Instagram also flagged the change and attached the same screenshot that was used in the viral tweet to ask if the number was really changing.
Is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number switching to 988?
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Yes, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is switching to 988. Even after the switch, the lifeline will still accept calls made to the old 10-digit number.
WHAT WE FOUND
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s website confirms that 988 will connect everyone in the U.S. to the lifeline beginning July 16, 2022. People will be able to call, text or start an online chat through 988.
This switch will not do away with the old number. Both 988 and 1-800-273-8255 will connect to the same suicide prevention lifeline.
“The current Lifeline phone number (1-800-273-8255) will always remain available to people in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, even after 988 is launched nationally,” the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline says.
In October 2020, the federal government passed a law requiring the lifeline’s transition to 988.
“It is critical to transition the cumbersome, existing 10-digit National Suicide Hotline to a universal, easy-to-remember, 3-digit phone number and connect people in crisis with life-saving resources,” the text of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020 said of the switch.
As part of the transition to 988, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is also requiring text providers to support direct texting to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline through 988. Prior to July 16, the only text option available was through online chats.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline was launched by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Vibrant Emotional Health in 2005. SAMHSA said in 2021 it would allocate $282 million it received from the Biden Administration and the American Rescue Plan to support the transition to 988. The funding, which is nearly 10 times the $24 million the Lifeline received during fiscal year 2021, would be used to improve state crisis call centers’ services, increase capacity to meet an expected increase in demand and enhance the centers’ local text and chat response capabilities.
The three largest wireless phone providers have already made 988 available to most, if not all, of their customers.
T-Mobile became the first major wireless provider to support 988, directly connecting customers who dialed the three-digit code to the Lifeline as early as Nov. 20, 2020. Verizon announced its customers could access the Lifeline through 988 on Dec. 21, 2020. On July 1, 2021, AT&T announced 988 was active for 99% of its wireless customers, and it would be active for all customers by the July 16 deadline.
Until the nationwide switch is made, anyone experiencing a crisis is advised to call the Lifeline’s current number, 1-800-273-8255.
The Associated Press contributed to this story