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Local News | July 22, 2022

New 988 Number for Mental Health Emergencies

By LeWonnie Belcher

Effective 16 July 2022, “988” will serve as the new direct dial number for the National Suicide Prevention Helpline. The number will be available for use at national, state, and local levels.

The change to the helpline, operated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, is a result of a Federal Law signed in 2020 and Federal Communication Commission guidance that all telephone service providers in the U.S. activate the number by July 2022.

Deemed the ‘new 911 for mental health emergencies’, the new “988” number can be used by the individuals or those looking to assist people who are contemplating suicide or are experiencing other mental health crises. The three-digit number replaces the National Suicide Prevention Helpline’s 800-273-8255 phone number currently in use.

The change to “988” also impacts the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL) and Military Crisis Line (MCL), which are operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Historically, currently serving and veteran service members or those trying to support them, were asked to “Press 1” to route their calls to the appropriate call centers. The same will apply with the new number as they will dial “988” then press “1” to connect to a call center responder with training to assist the military/veteran population.

When people contact “988”, they will be connected to one of the helpline’s more than 200 crisis centers where trained counselors are on the receiving end of the call. These trained counselors listen, provide support, and connect callers to resources as necessary. VCL/MCL responders receive training dealing with military culture.

Overseas

Soldiers, Army Civilians and Family members serving overseas must still contact the Veterans Crisis Line’s “800” number. Use of the “800” number, which is based and operated in the United States in partnership with the SAMHSA, may result in international charges, depending upon the caller’s location and network provider. Individuals residing overseas may also contact the Helpline via chat and request that a responder contact the individual by phone at no cost to the requestor. The following are overseas helpline numbers:

  • In Europe, call 00800 1273 8255 or DSN 118.
  • In Korea, call 0808 555 118 or DSN 118.
  • In Afghanistan, call 00 1 800 273 8255 or DSN 111.
  • The text number will remain the same.

Numerous studies have shown that callers in crisis felt less suicidal and more hopeful after speaking with a helpline responder, according to the National Suicide Prevention Helpline website.

“Crisis lines are an important component of a comprehensive Suicide prevention program and provide a resource to deescalate and respond to emergency needs,” said Carrie Shult, the Army’s Suicide Prevention Program Manager. “For those who are unsure of how or when to use the crisis line, the Army Resilience Directorate developed Suicide Ideation battle drills https://www.armyresilience.army.mil/ard/battle-drill.html that are intended to support the identification of suicide thoughts and plans and how to navigate them.” The battle drills cards are for leaders, peers, and family members.

According to Shult, the new helpline also provides an opportunity for the United States to rethink the approach to mental health, substance use disorders, and suicide prevention.  The “988” helpline is designed to provide a resource that allows those experiencing these types of crises to call for help and get a rapid, consistent, and appropriate response for mental health emergencies.

Editor’s Note:

The National Suicide Prevention Helpline call centers are in need of trained staff to address the anticipated surge in calls as a result of the change to “988”. If you’re interested in volunteering or working as a paid employee, contact samhsa.gov/988-jobs.

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