A new national mental health crisis hotline is launching on Saturday (July 16). Anybody will be able to call or text 988 to be connected with a mental health counselor. Assistance will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a network of over 200 local call centers located across the country. Callers will be redirected to a national backup center if all the lines are busy.
Officials said the new number is like 911 for people undergoing a mental health crisis. It will allow them to get the help and support they need while hopefully reducing the strain on law enforcement and emergency healthcare facilities.
“Law enforcement does a great job with what they do, but they are not psychiatrists, they are not social workers, and they are not peer support specialists. When people hear 911, they hear, ‘Yeah, I’m in crisis, but also, am I in trouble?’ No, you’re not a criminal; you’re just in crisis. I’ve been there,” suicide survivor Tonja Myles told USA Today. “The fact that 988 is here and it specifically deals with a person who is in a mental health or substance abuse or any type of crisis, I’m just grateful that in my lifetime I get to see that.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra has tempered expectations about the new program ahead of its launch. Because it is handled by state programs and not the federal government, there are concerns that some states may lack the resources to handle a high volume of calls.
Despite the concerns, Becerra assured people that they would not receive a busy signal if they call the hotline.
“If you are willing to turn to someone in your moment of crisis, 988 will be there. 988 won’t be a busy signal, and 988 won’t put you on hold. You will get help,” he said. “That is the aspiration. And it doesn’t happen overnight.”
“988 isn’t just a number; it’s a message,” Becerra told reporters last month, according to Politico. “It’s the signal to America that we want to consolidate that service, we want to strengthen that service, and we want to make it consistent. We won’t have the luxury of decades like 911 had to get on the ground and running.”