988 – The New National Mental Health Hotline

Mental Health Hotline

The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, is a mental health hotline that offers 24/7 support through calls, texts, and chats with trained crisis counselors. These counselors can assist people who experience suicidal thoughts, substance use, a mental health crisis, or emotional distress. Someone can also call the helpline if they want to connect with crisis support for a loved one

We tend to think about mental health crises and hotlines related to suicidal thoughts or behaviors, but 988 isn’t just for these concerns. Anyone who’s experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis or wants to support a loved one can call 988. If you’re going through a difficult time and need to talk to someone, that’s what the line is there for.

What is a Mental Health Hotline?

A mental health hotline is a toll-free phone number that provides 24/7 support for people who are experiencing mental health crises. The hotline is staffed by trained mental health professionals who can provide confidential, non-judgmental support and guidance. 

Callers can expect to receive information about mental health resources, coping strategies, and crisis intervention services. The hotline is an anonymous and confidential resource, which means that callers can remain anonymous if they choose to do so. The mental health hotline is a valuable resource for anyone who is struggling with their mental health, and it can be accessed by anyone, at any time.

The Lifeline is for anyone who needs support from mental health professionals or counselors. 

Why the New Number? 

The new 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is reaching more Americans experiencing distress and connecting them to resources and help faster than the previous 10-digit number did. The 988 mental health hotline replaced the old hotline on July 16, 2022. 

New data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found in August, the first full operation month for the 24-hour crisis hotline, there was a 45% increase in the volume of calls, texts, and chats compared to the same month last year.

  • There was a more than 50% increase in the number of calls answered.
  • The number of texts answered went up by 1000% from 2021.
  • There was a 195% increase in the chats answered on the 988 websites.
  • The data shows that people now wait less time with this helpline than before to connect to a trained counselor. More than 200 call centers make up the 988 helpline network.
  •  HHS officials reported in August 2021 that the average response time for calls, texts, and chats was 2 minutes and 30 seconds, which experts say is too long for someone experiencing a crisis. In August 2022, the response time went down to 42 seconds.

The Biden administration has invested money in the help crisis line and its infrastructure. The administration says it’s working on adding backup call centers and hiring more people to answer the calls at the current 24-hour crisis hotline.

The old 10-digit number will still work, but the 988 number is easier to remember, and the hope is that it makes the crisis line more accessible to more people.

Is 988 a Mental Health Hotline?

The 988 Lifeline Isn’t Just for Suicidal Thoughts

When you reach out to 988, your texts, calls, and chats are confidential. Your information isn’t shared with anyone else without your consent unless your safety or someone else’s safety is in imminent danger.

Chats are secured using the same standards as major financial institutions. Anything you’re typing to your counselor is encrypted. You don’t have to provide personal information to operate the Lifeline; if someone asks you for any personal data, it’s only used to connect you to support or help improve services. Your information is never sold.

The U.S. government funds the 988 Lifeline, so it’s free for anyone.

Mental Health Hotline

Other things to know include:

  • Research shows that 988 Lifeline callers are significantly more likely to feel less suicidal, less overwhelmed, less depressed, and more hopeful after speaking to a counselor.
  • The primary goal of the 988 helpline is to provide support for people when they need it, and most people calling don’t need additional interventions. That means that first responders will not automatically be dispatched; in 98% of calls, they aren’t.
  • Lifeline crisis centers adhere to the Imminent Risk Policy, meaning crisis staff uses active engagement to help and support people in the least restrictive possible setting. The Lifeline resolves most contacts in a way that does not require immediate intervention.
  • When you reach out to 988, the counselor responding to you will know your phone number. If you use chat, they will know your IP address but won’t know where you’re located. You aren’t required to provide personal information to receive support from Lifeline.

What Happens When You Call 988?

The goal of calling 988 is to put you in contact with mental health services for free, but what exactly does it entail?

The following outlines what you can expect when you call the 988 mental health hotline:

  • When you call 988, first, you’ll hear a greeting. That greeting will allow you to connect to the Veterans Crisis Line, get help in Spanish, or stay on the line. If you stay on the line, your call is sent to a network crisis center in your local area, based on your area code.
  • If your local crisis center can’t take your call, it’s routed to another. Hundreds of independent, locally-owned crisis centers make up the Lifeline network.
  • After routing your call, you’re connected with a trained counselor who will provide support and share resources for getting help with mental illness and mental health conditions. 
  • If you think you’re in danger, the counselor might talk to you about connecting to local emergency services, but the goal is to provide you with the least invasive plan that keeps you safe. Fewer than 2% of calls to the Lifeline involve local emergency services, and more than half include the caller’s consent.
  • You can also go online, chat with a counselor, or text 988.
  • If you go online to do a chat, you’ll be asked to fill out a quick bit of information about yourself, which is designed to help your counselor provide the best support to you.
  • If you text 988 from your phone, a counselor who may or may not be local will respond.

Depression Mental Health Treatment in San Diego

The 988 Lifeline is one valuable resource, especially if you’re in a crisis. But a crisis is something that is best avoided through maintenance and treatment. Through proper treatment, you should be able to work with our medical team to manage medications, develop healthy coping mechanisms, talk through overwhelming situations, and avoid having a mental health crisis. 

If you’d like to learn more about the most comprehensive depression and mental health treatment in the San Diego area, contact the Mental Health Center of San Diego at 858-465-7722. We offer psychiatric evaluations, counseling, therapy, and mental health treatment from top to bottom. Take the first step towards good mental health, contact us today!

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