Ascellus Blog

Introducing 988: The Mental Health Emergency Lifeline

July 10, 2022
Emergency Phone

On July 16, 2022, a three-digit mental health emergency number will become available on all devices across the United States, connecting callers who are suffering a mental health crisis, mental illness or substance use issue to the National Prevention Suicide Lifeline. In the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020, Congress permitted states to enact telecommunication costs to aid in funding this new number. Funds from the American Rescue Plan of 2021 have also been allocated to the Department of Health and Human Services to help in instituting the 988 mental health emergency number.


In addition, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) have formed an alliance, combining their efforts with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the agency leading the push for this new national hotline number. Instituting 988 is a crucial first step towards transforming the crisis care system in America and will allow people facing immediate crises an improved availability of services.


Once up and running, 988 will service multiple languages, although English will be the only language available for those accessing the service via text and chat. Regardless of the communication platform chosen, those who contact 988 will be put in touch with one of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s qualified counselors who are trained in mental health emergencies and knowledgeable of the type of support and resources callers need.   


It is important to clarify that 988 will not replace the current 11-digit Lifeline number, 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK), the service of which will continue for those in need of emotional and crisis counseling. However, the goal of 988 is to deliver life-saving assistance to every person who calls, texts or chats, with the long-term vision of employing local providers across the nation who will be available to provide the entire scope of crisis care services. This nationwide network aims to bridge each state, which will have its own network of providers and services that will form its particular crisis system and manage the people within its state. This means that states will need to assemble their own crisis response system to meet the local needs of 988 calls.


Enacting 988 as the national mental health emergency number also marks an important step in revolutionizing mental health care and attitudes toward those facing mental illness, as it presents hope for reducing the stigma surrounding mental health in the following ways:


  • An easily-remembered, three-digit number, 988 will be available by calling, texting or chatting the service through any device, thereby offering mainstream accessibility and helping it to assimilate quickly into American culture.


  • Increasing options at the state and local levels for those suffering mental health crises will also decrease the need for law enforcement to step in and reduces the risk of public disclosure, an important step in eliminating negative stereotypes.


  • Expanding access to mental health assistance and enhancing its proficiency of networks to include community response efforts will further assist in normalizing the service and lessening the stigma.

The 988 mental health emergency number will offer an additional communication option and is intended to broaden and bolster the current Lifeline network and facilitate access across its national call center network. The work necessary to prepare for such a large-scale endeavor presents a unique opportunity for community providers, individuals experienced in mental health care and those in need of care to work together to normalize the prioritization of and action for mental health.

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Ascellus bridges the gap between mental and physical health to accelerate recovery for our nation's workforce. By connecting the workers' compensation industry with our expert behavioral care and evidence-based treatments, we deliver high-quality outcomes, helping injured workers reemerge with increased strength, purpose and resilience in the workplace.