The 101 on 988: What You Need to Know About the New Mental Health Hotline

Mental health emergencies deserve the same level of care and expertise as physical health emergencies, but access remains a challenge. Many people facing a crisis dial 911, and that call will either lead to a hospitalization or an arrest, a systemic failure to serve the needs of that person in crisis. That’s why Congress passed the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act in 2020, developing an easy to remember number, 988, that will route callers to over 200 crisis centers nationwide.

Trained crisis counselors staff the mental health hotline, providing timely interventions, referring callers to appropriate providers, or deploying trained crisis responders. The aim of 988 is to deliver the same robust response and triage services for mental health emergencies that 911 provides for physical health emergencies. Read on to answer pressing questions on 988 and its potential impact on behavioral health care in the U.S.

What is 988?

988 is a hotline that is accessible by phone, text message, and webchat. It routes callers to the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and its affiliated crisis centers. 988 expands the mission of that lifeline to support a broad range of mental health and substance use issues in addition to suicide prevention and offers a framework to triage individuals in a mental health crisis.

The new 988 number will be available nationwide on July 16, 2022. The previous hotline number, 1-800-273-8255, will remain available during and after 988’s launch. Both will route callers to the same network of crisis centers.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has awarded nearly $105 million in grant funding to help states prepare for 988, supporting training and staffing efforts as well as technical implementation. About half of states have passed or have introduced legislation to further fund the 988 effort and connect the hotline to existing healthcare infrastructures. States that have not allocated additional funding to 988 may struggle to handle the anticipated high call volumes, leading to long wait times for individuals who are in crisis.

It’s expected that states will gradually introduce legislation to support the 988 effort with the hope that the crisis network will expand over time, similar to the development of 911 services.

Why Was 988 Created?

The hotline comes at a critical time when mental health crises are on the rise in the U.S. When the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline was introduced in 2005, it fielded 50,000 calls. In 2020, the hotline received over 2.4 million. In the wake of the pandemic, rising depression and anxiety, and the ongoing opioid epidemic, 988 is expected to support 6 to 12 million people in its first year alone.

988 also ensures that the right resources are allocated to individuals suffering from a mental health condition. People in crisis who call 911 may end up in an emergency department whether or not that’s appropriate for their behavioral health needs. If a 911 caller in crisis is not hospitalized, they may be arrested. According to the Justice Department, over 44% of people in jail have a mental health condition. 988 is a critical tool to ensure individuals receive the right level of care and resources.

How Will NeuroFlow Incorporate 988?

NeuroFlow offers a customizable Crisis Resources tab which lists local and national hotlines for a wide variety of mental health conditions. Organizations who work with NeuroFlow choose the resources that align with the unique needs of their population. Some common hotlines we feature include Veteran Crisis, Maternal Mental Health Hotline, National Domestic Violence Lifeline, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Thousands of individuals have accessed these crisis hotlines directly from the NeuroFlow app. We will make 988 available in the Crisis Resources tab in the near future.

988 has elevated the national conversation around suicide and suicide prevention. That in itself is a positive,” said Matt Miclette, MPH, MS, RN, Head of Clinical Operations at NeuroFlow. “From my experience, we need to continue to advocate for more resources and embrace technology that can help connect individuals to resources they need earlier – to prevent crisis.”

In addition to providing access to crisis hotlines, NeuroFlow also offers an add-on crisis solution known as Response Services. Similar to 988, licensed professionals comprise NeuroFlow’s Response Services team and offer timely interventions via phone or email to at-risk individuals, referring them when needed to behavioral health providers.  

The Future of 988

The launch of the 988 hotline is a huge step in the right direction for improving mental and behavioral health care in the U.S. It will reduce unnecessary arrests and emergency room visits by routing individuals to the appropriate resources in their communities. 

Most importantly, 988 will elevate mental health emergencies to the same level of importance as physical health emergencies. There is no shame in becoming sick or injured, just as there should be no shame in having a mental health condition. NeuroFlow is excited to see the adoption and growth of 988, and we view the hotline as a key resource in our mission to create a healthier and happier world.

For more information on 988, check out the Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s helpful compendium of resources.

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