Beginning July 16, you can call or text 988 to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.Here’s a new way to get free live support if you or someone you know thinks suicidea mental health or substance use crisis, or any other type of emotional distress.
Lifeline has been at (800) 273-8255 (TALK) since 2005 and you can still reach it 24/7 at that number. This new three-digit calling code will only be easier to remember and dial.
When you call 988
If you dial 988, you will first hear a greeting and you can choose to connect to the Veterans Crisis Line, get help in Spanish, or stay online while your call is routed to your local Lifeline Network Crisis Center. It depends on your area code.
If your local crisis center is unavailable, your call will go to another lifeline center. Approximately 200 independent, locally owned and operated crisis centers work in the Lifeline network, with plans to expand and improve the network with the introduction of the 988.
Once your call is routed, a trained counselor will answer the call. They will listen, provide support and share resources if needed. Their main goal is to support you in times of difficulty.
If they feel you are in danger, the counselor may discuss connecting you to a local emergency service (such as 911), but first they will do what they can to help you develop a less intrusive plan to keep you safe. Less than 2% of Lifeline calls involve local emergency services, and more than half of them have the caller’s consent.
988 when you chat or text online
If you prefer to chat with a counselor on your computer, please visit Suicide Prevention Lifeline.org/chat. Lifeline has provided live chat service since 2013 and will continue to provide it after the launch of 988.
Before starting the chat, you’ll be asked to fill out a quick survey to share some information about yourself, your main difficulties, and how you’re feeling. This will help your advisor give you the best possible support from the start of the conversation. You’ll see a message while you wait for a crisis counselor to join your chat.
Advisors will answer your chats as soon as they become available. They will ask you questions about your safety, how you are feeling, your social situation and if you have any suicidal thoughts. If needed, a chat advisor will work with you to develop a safety plan or contact your local emergency services.
If the wait time to chat with someone is long, you’ll get a message to let you know. While you wait, you can view Lifeline’s online resources linked on the chat page, or dial 988 to chat with someone now. The busiest time for chat is 10pm to 2am EST.
Starting July 16, you can also text 988 from your mobile phone. Advisors from the Lifeline Crisis Center will respond. They may or may not be local. Over the next few years, the SMS service will grow to include more local crisis centers.
No matter how you access 988, the goal is to help you relieve stress and give you the tools to make healthy choices.
Not just for suicide prevention
988 isn’t just for suicide. It’s also a resource for anyone who is going through a crisis related to substance use or mental health, and anyone concerned about a loved one who may need support.
According to the Lifeline website, “anyone who is depressed, experiencing difficulty, needs to talk or is considering suicide” can contact 988. The website says the counselor “will listen and support you during any difficult times you may be facing.”
Free and confidential
Anytime you dial 988, your calls, texts and chats will be kept private. This means that your information will not be shared without your consent unless your safety or the safety of others is in immediate danger.
Your chats with 988 are protected by the same data protection standards used by major financial institutions. Anything you enter into the counselor is encrypted from your computer to theirs.
You do not need to provide any personal information to use 988. Any time someone asks for your personal data, it will only be used to connect you to ongoing support or to help Lifeline improve its services. Your information will never be sold.
The US government funds 988 and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, making it free for anyone to use. Your phone company may charge you standard rates for text messages and calls.
988 provides more support
In the first full year of 988, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) expects Lifeline to nearly double the number of calls, chats and texts.
During this transition, the federal government has committed $177 million to strengthen and expand the Lifeline network and provided $105 million in grants to 54 states and territories to improve their local response as calls and messages increase. Despite the money, some parts of the U.S. are better prepared than others, according to a RAND Corporation report.
“We are at the beginning, not the end, of a transition, and there is a lot more work to do,” John Palmieri, MD, acting director of SAMHSA 988 and the Office of Behavioral Health Crisis Coordination, said in a statement. “We expect 988 to continue to grow and develop in the coming months as more states begin to step up.”