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Is There an Equivalent of 911 for Mental Health?

Margaret Lipman
Updated May 17, 2024
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By the time they're in elementary school, every child has learned about the importance of calling 911 in an emergency. It's short and easy to remember.

However, some emergencies take the form of mental health crises. Up until now, the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) was neither short nor easy to remember. Nevertheless, since 2005, the lifeline has received over 20 million calls, underlining the importance of having a way for people in crisis to reach a trained counselor.

Beginning on July 16, it will get much easier to contact the lifeline. Although the existing 10-digit number will still work, a new three-digit code (988) will also connect callers to the mental health support they need. People can also text or use online chat. The goal is for "988" to soon be just as well known as "911," and to destigmatize asking for help for mental illness.

However, the implementation of the new code is not without its challenges. Health officials expect to see a huge uptick in calls to the lifeline, which will be routed to 200 existing regional crisis centers. Although the Department of Health and Human Services says it has invested $400 million to help with the "988" rollout, many states have not yet allocated additional resources to deal with the expected rise in call volume.

A true lifeline:

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline received 50,000 calls in its first year. In 2020, it received 2.5 million calls. Much of the increase is attributable to the lifeline becoming better known.

  • According to the CDC, 12.2 million Americans seriously contemplated suicide in 2020 and 1.2 million attempted it. Tragically, 45,799 Americans died by suicide that year.

  • Among transgender people, 82% have contemplated suicide and 40% have attempted it.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman , Writer and editor
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.

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Margaret Lipman

Margaret Lipman

Writer and editor

With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
Learn more
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