For years, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has been a phone number people can call 24/7 for free and confidential help and support during mental health and suicide-related crises.
In 2020, Congress announced a new and shorter phone number, “988,” to be implemented by 2022 through the existing Lifeline. Like dialing “911” to dispatch emergency medical, police, and firefighters, dialing “988” will specifically serve to connect individuals experiencing crises involving substance misuse, mental health, and suicide with trained professionals who can intervene to provide life-saving resources and services.
Each year, more than 43.8 million Americans struggle with mental illness. Of those, 60% did not receive mental health treatment or services over the past year (NAMI.org). People often don’t seek professional help with mental health issues due to stigma, treatment costs, lack of transportation, and lack of social and familial support.
The 988 phone line will officially operate on July 16th, 2022. It is a promising step in continuing to “bridge the gap” between social service agencies and people struggling with mental illness. As a side note, the official Lifeline number for mental health and suicide-related crises will remain active even after implementing “988” (1-800-273-8255).
Research shows that 1 in 5 American adults experience a mental illness during their lifetime (NAMI.org), so mental health issues are much more common than one might think. Mental health issues include anxiety and depression to suicidal ideation and emotional disorders and can range in frequency and severity. Everyone can benefit from mental health services, you and me, our friends, neighbors, and co-workers. A quick and easy three-digit number that is easy to remember will hopefully increase the number of people reaching out for mental health crisis services. Over time, this number will become common knowledge, just like 911, and children will also learn to use it during their grade school safety presentations. Maybe one day, we, as a society, can say that implementing this short three-digit number helped change how our community viewed and responded to people struggling with mental health issues. We must eliminate the stigma around mental health issues so we can all get the help we need and continue strengthening our society physically and mentally.