Dial 988 in Times of Crisis
Every American knows the three-digit phone number to reach police and fire services. When we dial 911 anywhere in the United States, an emergency dispatcher will answer the phone and we get help right away. Beginning July 16, a similar easy-to-remember telephone number, 988, will connect individuals with trained counselors who can help avert a mental health crisis.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), will continue to respond to calls from individuals struggling with emotional or mental health after July 16, but now Americans will also be able to find help by dialing just three digits, 988. The service can also be reached by texting 988 or through an online chat at 988lifeline.org. Using any of these methods connects people in need to a nationwide network of more than 180 crisis centers staffed by counselors trained to respond to a wide range of mental health, substance use and suicidal crises. The free and confidential network is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Funded by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides immediate help for individuals in the throngs of an emotional crisis, but it can also act as a referral service for callers who know someone in trouble. The service is open to anyone experiencing an emotional crisis, even if they are not thinking about harming themselves. The counselor on the other end of the line will listen to the caller, work to understand what they’re experiencing, provide support and help the caller connect with needed services. As with the traditional toll-free telephone number, military veterans dialing the 988 lifeline will be given a prompt to “Press 1” and connect to counselors who specialize in aiding veterans.
The new 988 number is the result of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which was signed into law in October 2020. In Missouri, budget legislation passed this year provides funding to implement the new three-digit number in our state. In addition, two bills passed by the General Assembly will require public schools in Missouri to display the 988 number on ID cards issued to students in grade seven through 12, beginning in July 2023.
Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States, with nearly 46,000 Americans taking their own life in 2020. That’s about one suicide every 11 minutes nationwide. The number of people who think about or attempt suicide is even higher. The good news is that suicide is preventable. One key to saving lives is connecting those at risk with the resources that can help them through a crisis. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has been an important part of that effort for years. Now it will be even easier to find help by dialing just three numbers, 988. I encourage everyone to make a note of this number, and commit it to memory. If you or someone you know is facing an emotional crisis, please call. Even if you have not considered harming yourself, it’s critically important to reach out for help.
I always appreciate hearing your comments, opinions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-2459. You may write me at Holly Thompson Rehder, Missouri Senate, State Capitol, Rm 433, Jefferson City, MO 65101, send an email to Holly.Rehder@senate.mo.gov or visit www.senate.mo.gov/Rehder.