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The 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline short code is now widely available for dialing through land lines, cell phones, and voice-over-internet devices in the United States. This new three-digit number makes it easier for people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress to connect with trained mental health counselors in real-time.
In 2020, Congress designated the 988 dialing code to be operated through the existing Lifeline and set a goal date of July 16, 2022, for it to be available nationwide. UScellular activated 988 dialing in 2020 and added texting functionality in 2022.
The importance of having the 988 number available cannot be overstated. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2020 alone, the U.S. had one death by suicide about every 11 minutes—and for people aged 10 – 34 years, suicide is a leading cause of death. Additionally, from April 2020 to 2021, over 100,000 individuals died from drug overdoses.
“Suicide is a serious public health crisis that impacts people of all ages, so ensuring this service was available for our customers was a priority,” said Narothum Saxena, vice president of technology strategy and architecture at UScellular and executive sponsor of the company’s associate resource group focused on mental health awareness. “By making it easier and faster to access help at critical times, our hope is that those in need take advantage of the mental health support available, and more lives can be saved.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, now called the 988 Crisis and Suicide Lifeline, is a national network of over 200 local, independent crisis centers equipped to help people in mental health-related distress or experiencing a suicidal crisis, via call, chat, or text. The Lifeline provides free and confidential support to people in suicidal crisis or mental health-related distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, across the U.S. Calls to the Lifeline are routed to the nearest crisis center, and there is no cost for dialing the number.
SAMHSA, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Veterans Affairs worked to make 988 a reality, which is more than just an easy-to-remember number. It’s a direct connection to compassionate, accessible care and support for anyone experiencing mental health-related distress – whether that is thoughts of suicide, mental health or substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress. People can also dial or text 988 if they are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support.
People can also contact the Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK) or by accessing 988lifeline.org/chat or veteranscrisisline.net/get-help/chat. The 988 Crisis and Suicide Lifeline is funded by SAMHSA and has been administered by Vibrant Emotional Health since it began in 2005.