Mental Health, Wellness / Self-Care

411 on 988 – the new Mental Health crisis hotline

Launching in July.

words by: Natasha Marsh
May 4, 2022

Ever since you were little, you knew the easy sequence of numbers to call if you were in danger or trouble: 911. Thankfully, this summer, there will also be a number to call if you are experiencing a mental health crisis in America. It’s only 3 digits, which is extremely helpful, and easy to remember: 988.


When to use 988

988 is intended to be used if people are struggling with mental health and need immediate resources. Panic attacks, addiction, and suicide ideation are just some of the issues the hotline can help callers with. As mental health becomes a more of a widely discussed topic, with more and more people being diagnosed with depression, it seems like this phone number is a great outlet for those who need help. Especially since the people on the other line will be trained professionals with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If people don’t have direct access to therapy, this measure can save lives.


What happens when you call?

When you call the number, after an automated greeting, someone from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will be able to assist you. The counselor will be in a call center located within your area code. It’s rare, but if the center is at capacity, don’t worry—you’ll be redirected to the national backup center. Someone will be able to talk to you, no matter what. It’s important to note that when the line starts in July, calls directly to the lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) will also route to 988. Calling the lifeline will be absolutely free.


In the beginning, there will be issues with staffing and dispatching, which is to be expected. But it’s important to note that Congress is lending funding and resources that’ll help the service grow quickly.


Resources available from 988

With 988, help will be more targeted towards the person who needs it. For example, every person at a call center is trained for around 90 hours. Additionally, they will have plenty of resources for support, like documents, short sheets, safety assessments, and webinars. The top priority is for callers to have access to the help they need.


That’s not all, though. Counselors offer the caller follow-up resources for help after the call ends. Sometimes, that requires help face-to-face. If that’s the case, the next step is to see if there’s a nearby mobile crisis unit—professionals like social workers and family peer advocates—who can be dispatched to you. As the service grows, the lifeline center aims to have mobile crisis units available everywhere. Initially, though, if that’s unavailable and the crisis is imminent, police may be sent to help.


Sometimes, people call 911 when they’re having a mental health crisis. It makes sense—it’s the number you call for emergencies. However, that also means police will be sent to the person who calls. This isn’t ideal for the 46% of people who don’t feel comfortable calling law enforcement. Especially in the wake of a mental health emergency.


In the past, this often meant the person who needed help would be jailed or injured by the police. Remember, help from Congress is helping the service and dispatch options grow in the very near future. The goal is to offer up functional resources to everyone.


In related news, read up on how to train in mental health first aid.