A new 988 crisis hotline comes to America — here’s what to know

Sad woman looking at her phone

As of July 16, the United States has a new emergency hotline designed to help callers respond to mental health crises. The new number, 988, connects to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (currently at 800-273-8255).

The lifeline has existed since 2005, but 988 is part of a government initiative to make it easier for people to reach the help they need.

Who is 988 designed for?

Anyone experiencing severe emotional distress, thoughts of suicide or thoughts of harming others should call this number for help.

Who’s on the other end of the 988 crisis number?

A person calling the Suicide Prevention Lifeline will be connected with a trained, local professional who will listen, assess the nature of the problem(s) the person is facing, offer support and guidance, and present options for next steps in locating and linking with ongoing support.

What does 988 change for crisis care?

Having a single, easy-to-remember, around-the-clock resource for people to call when they’re experiencing a mental health emergency helps destigmatize the act of reaching out for support. Because the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline connects callers with trained professionals at local crisis centers who are familiar with resources in the area, it also allows callers to learn about available options to link with longer-term support and treatment.

For individuals experiencing emotional distress or suicidal thoughts, being able to access immediate, free, confidential assistance from someone who will listen, seek to understand, offer compassionate support and guidance, and help them stay safe is incredibly meaningful. Having a distinct phone number for mental health crises also offers an important alternative to calling 911, which typically results in deployment of police (rather than mental health professionals) to respond to mental health emergencies.

For health care providers, being able to offer an after-hours resource to people in times of crisis gives them peace of mind, closing a treatment gap and helping save lives.

What to do in a mental health crisis — for yourself or a loved one

For far too long, mental health concerns have been stigmatized, deterring many people from reaching out for help and leaving them instead to struggle and suffer in silence. The reality is that most people will face situations that lead to emotional distress at some point in their lives. Sometimes, this distress can reach a point where typical ways of coping just aren’t sufficient. This doesn’t mean you’re crazy, damaged, broken or bad. It just means you’re human, and that you could use a little support.

Common symptoms indicating that a mental health professional might be able to help:

  • Fatigue
  • Increased irritability
  • Persistent feelings of anxiety
  • Crying spells
  • Social isolation or withdrawal
  • Decreased ability to concentrate
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
  • Difficulty functioning at work, school or in relationships with others

If you or someone you love are experiencing symptoms, it’s OK to reach out for help — in fact, the sooner, the better. You don’t have to wait until symptoms reach a crisis point to access support. Taking a proactive stance on maintaining your mental health is part of optimizing your overall wellness.

Other resources for mental health help

The good news is that mental health treatment works.

The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center offers state-of-the-art mental health care through the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Health.

For those that would like to learn more about coping with symptoms or about how best to support a loved one, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers a variety of free education and support group options.

Looking for confidential mental health treatment in a caring environment?

Ohio State's behavioral health team provides comprehensive care backed by one of the nation's leading academic health centers.

Learn more or make an appointment

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