988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: A Year Later
It’s been just over a year since the launch of 988, the three-digit dialing code that sends callers to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, also called the 988 Lifeline. Since the transition to 988 in July 2022, the lifeline has answered nearly five million contacts—nearly two million more than in the previous 12 months.
988 is funded through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which has set a goal of ensuring at least 80% of the U.S. population have access to mobile crisis response by 2025. “Reaching this goal will require engaging with EMS,” notes Kate Elkins, EMS/911 Specialist, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Office of EMS. Not only must EMS professionals participate in delivering and coordinating care, but mental health is a critical priority for the EMS workforce.
“First responders, including EMS, are overrepresented when compared to the general population for suicide and mental health issues,” she explains. “As we improve the research, we’re developing a better understanding of the problem and also that these issues are not inevitable. There are significant things we can do to prevent, treat and reduce mental health sequelae in our workforce.”
NHTSA’s Office of EMS collaborates with the CDC, USFA and the National Institute of Mental Health on research and encourages providers to participate in studies on EMS clinician mental health. ”We have a lot of hope for future generations not to have the challenges with mental health that generations before them have had,” adds Elkins.
The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline can also receive text messages. Texts received in the first year were up 1135%, and chats via 988lifeline.org increased by 141%. Available 24/7, 988 offers specialized services for veterans and members of the military and their families (press 1); Spanish speakers (including text and chat; press 2); and those seeking services for LGBTQI+ youth and adults under 25 (press 3). Deaf and hard-of-hearing ASL users can also call 988 Videophone, in addition to using online chat, text or TTY.
Every contact made to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is forwarded to a local crisis center that’s part of a nationwide network of more than 200 centers across the country staffed by trained counselors. The counselors also provide access to local resources and all communication is secure and confidential. No matter how someone contacts the lifeline—whether by phone, text or chat—they are not required to disclose their identity or location in order to receive services.
Nearly $1 billion in federal funding has been invested in the 988 Lifeline in recent years and about half of U.S. States have passed appropriations to fund 988-related services. Funding supports States, Territories and some Tribes/Tribal Organizations. The lifeline’s next phase will include the development of more mobile crisis teams to help those in need no matter where they are located. Following that, work will be done to develop stabilization centers.
“Expanding the crisis system is critical for our communities, as we need these resources to care for our patients,” concludes Elkins. “It’s also critical for our workforce and their families to have access to improved crisis resources. The more we can engage and advocate for interoperable systems of systems, the more we’ll all benefit.”
If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org