As of July 16, 2022, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will be reached by dialing 988. On July 23, The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unanimously voted to finalize the three-digit number for Americans to contact the 24/7 national hotline.
Currently, people can reach the lifeline by dialing 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). The lifeline is a national network of 170 local crisis centers that offers free and confidential support for people in distress who are feeling suicidal. It also offers support for loved ones of someone who is struggling. The number works all over the country 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
There will be a two-year transition to make the change to a three-digit phone number. This lead time is designed to overcome the challenges of implementing network changes and prepare for an increase in the volume of calls.
“My hope is that by establishing a government-backed 988 suicide mental health three-digit dialing code, on par with the 911 dialing code all Americans know for emergencies, we will send a powerful signal that there is nothing shameful about seeking help in times of crisis,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in remarks before the vote, as reported by CNN. “That it’s a sign of strength, not one of weakness. We will let people know that they are not alone.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline tweeted about the approval of the new 3-digit number, reminding followers that it is not yet active and directing people to continue using the 800 number for now:
Today, the @FCC designated 988 as the new nationwide # for the Nat'l Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Pls cont. sharing 1-800-273-TALK (8255) w/ anyone wishing to connect w/ us. 988 is NOT CURRENTLY ACTIVE nationally & may not connect callers to the Lifeline. https://t.co/5VdhZGZUGT
— The Lifeline (@800273TALK) July 16, 2020
The 800 number will remain active after the three-digit number goes into effect. In addition to phone service, the organization also offers the option to chat online. At this time, the lifeline does not offer a texting service.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. In 2018, more than 48,000 Americans died by suicide. In the same year, there were an estimated 1.4 million suicide attempts. In 2015, suicide and self-harm cost the United States $69 billion.
A July 16 press release from the FCC outlined the importance of the lifeline’s adoption of a three-digit number: “Establishing the easy-to-remember 988 as the ‘911’ for suicide prevention and mental health services will make it easier for Americans in crisis to access the help they need and decrease the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health issues.”
Veterans and service members can call the number, then press “1” to reach the Veterans Crisis Line. They can also chat online at www.veteranscrisisline.net or text 838255.