988—The New National Suicide Prevention Hotline Launches Nationwide

The CDC reports that, in 2020, 12.2 million Americans seriously contemplated dying by suicide.

The CDC reports that, in 2020, 12.2 million Americans seriously contemplated dying by suicide.
Image: Pau Barrena (Getty Images)

As our country continues grappling with its ongoing mental health pandemic, a new National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number—988—is launching July 16 to support those struggling with suicidal ideation.

988 is the new designation for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (which is also being rebranded as the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline). According to its website, the lifeline was launched in 2005 and is a network of 200 local crisis centers scattered across the United States. The lifeline is available 24/7 for those experiencing an emotional crisis, and this new number is modeled after the straightforward “911.” The simplicity of the number could streamline the process of reaching out for help, especially after the service’s original (and longer) number saw increased public attention over the past few years.

988—The New National Suicide Prevention Hotline

When rapper Logic released his song “1-800-273-8255″ with Alessia Cara and Khalid in 2017, it struck a chord with the American public: The song charted at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was nominated for Song of the Year at the 2018 Grammy Awards. The phone number that makes up the song’s title is the original designation for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and after the song caught on, it broke down the stigma of reaching out for support during your darkest moment, and demonstrated the need for the service by bringing the number to the public’s attention—the lifeline saw a 50% increase in calls after Logic’s emotional performance of “1-800″ at the 2017 Video Music Awards. The uptick in awareness helped those experiencing suicidal ideation get connected to an operator, and switching to 988 could result in a similar effect.

988 was designated as the new number for nationwide mental health support in July 2020 by the Federal Communications Commission, and was signed into law in October 2020. 988 begins its rollout tomorrow—the previous 1-800 number will still be available for use—but not every state is on board, as only 21 states have allocated funding to support the number according to the National Academy for State Health Policy, and Politico reports that federal health officials are concerned that states may not be able to meet the demand. That’s a problem because America is hurting. Over 45,000 Americans died by suicide in 2020 according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 12.2 million Americans seriously contemplated death by suicide that same year.

I have called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline twice in my life, and approachable and accessible resources like this are a part of the reason why those struggling with depression and suicidal ideation are able to continue on. It’s important to note that while this rebranded lifeline will not completely eradicate the nation’s mental health crisis, it is a piece of a larger push to manage that crisis.

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