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988 rolls out as national suicide and crisis lifeline number

The new number doesn’t replace the National Suicide Hotline 800 number and makes access to services easier.

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A man sits on the floor with pajama bottoms and a t-shirt, his face buried in his hands despondent. He is leaning on a couch in a room that is dirty and disorganized with empty beer bottles and take out containers that have been sitting for possibly days scattered around, the room is dimly lit and disorganized, he is sad, isolated, and despondent

[OLYMPIA, Wash.] – MTN – You can now dial 988 in the United States for assistance with: thoughts of suicide, Mental health crises, substance use crises, or any other kind of emotional distress.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted the new, nationwide, easy-to-remember, three-digit number in 2020. As of July 16, 2022, people experiencing a mental health crisis, or those worried about a loved one going through a crisis, can call, text, or chat 988 via cell phone, landline, or voice-over-internet device and be connected to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The current NSPL number (1-800-273-TALK (8255)) will continue to be in service; the new three-digit number is intended to be easier to remember and access in times of crisis.

Depending on which area code communication to 988 is made from, the connection will be routed to one of three designated crisis call center hubs. This is the newest addition to the state’s network of crisis care providers and doesn’t replace existing centers.

Washington is one of 21 states that have passed legislation linked to the launch of the new 988 system. Only two other states have joined Washington in legislating a funding source for the services in their states. Washington established a telcom tax as part of House Bill 1477 (E2SHB 1477), which also outlines standards, rules, oversight, integration, follow-up, and accountability.

Ultimately, the 988 system is designed to expand mobile crisis response teams, including trained mental health professionals, to respond to individuals around the state. Sponsors of the bill have voiced their hope that such teams can eliminate the need for armed law enforcement to respond. However, there are still times that activation of an EMS or law enforcement response may be necessary, such as in the case of an active suicide attempt.

Additionally, part of the legislation requires health insurance providers within the state to establish, by January 1, 2023, a system making next-day appointments available to their enrollees with urgent, symptomatic behavioral health conditions. Further, a Crisis Response Improvement Strategy Committee has been established to develop recommendations to the governor’s office and legislature to support additional needs as identified and outlined in HB 1477.

If you or someone you care for needs resources for mental health crises, suicidal thoughts, substance use crises, or other emotional distress, the below services are always available.

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 988

Veteran’s Crisis Line: Call 988, then press 1, or text 838255

Teen Link: 1.866.TEENLINK (833.6546)

The Trevor Project: 1.866.488.7386

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