This is news that your whole family should know about. Starting on Saturday, July 16, anyone in the United States will be able to call or text just three digits — 988 — to get help from a trained counselor in the event of a mental health crisis.
Just like everyone knows to dial 911 in case of a general emergency, officials hope that the new number will save lives when it comes to suicide prevention. But the new number is also meant to handle an expanded number of mental health issues, like substance abuse struggles, anxiety, postpartum depression, and emotional distress.
Officially called the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, the service is run by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and will be staffed by both paid counselors and trained volunteers.
The former number for the National Suicide Prevention Line, which launched in 2005, will still work indefinitely: 1-800-273-8255.
All calls are free and anonymous, though counselors may work with local resources like emergency response teams if someone urgently needs medical attention.
“If someone has been through a traumatic event and is struggling to process it — and there are traumatic events happening throughout this country — this is a place to turn to,” Hannah Wesolowski, chief advocacy officer at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told The New York Times.
Experts connected to the project stress that the line isn’t just for those who are contemplating suicide or in crisis — you can call on behalf of someone else, or just to talk to someone if you’re struggling. There’s no test you have to pass to talk to someone who will listen to what you’re going through.
“If you’re unsure, call,” Dr. Robert Trestman, chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Council on Healthcare Systems and Financing, said in the NYT.
Multiple studies have found that suicide hotlines save lives over time, and 90 percent of people who call say that they were helped. At the same time, there are worries that the new three-digit number and rollout will result in longer wait times and delays as call centers around the country scramble to meet demand and train new staff and volunteers.
The release of the shorter, much more memorable number comes at a time when kids and teens are facing unprecedented levels of depression, anxiety, and self harm. Thanks to the pandemic, kids faced an uncertain future, closed schools, limited activities, and huge amounts of isolation. Now, there’s been a 30 percent rise in teens going to the ER for mental health reasons, and teens suffering from eating disorders have doubled.
Even younger kids have been impacted — to the point where experts recommend that kids over the age of 8 should be screened for anxiety and depression.
In 2020, suicide was the second leading cause of death for kids 10-14.
In other words, it’s important to not only talk to your tweens and teens about mental health and suicide, but to let your kids know about the hotline and memorize the number.
If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 (starting July 16) or 1-800-273-8255 any time. You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.