The Keenan Blog

Timely and informative posts written by our experts.


988 A New Number for Mental Health Resources

September 14, 2022 by Kelly Gonzales

This summer, a new nationwide lifeline has been implemented to support anyone experiencing a mental health, substance use, or suicide crisis. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline offers 24/7 access to trained counselors who can help people experiencing mental health-related distress. And there is tremendous need, given:

  • In 2020, the U.S. had one death by suicide every 11 minutes.
  • For people ages 10–34, suicide is a leading cause of death.
  • From April 2020 through April 2021, over 100,000 people died from drug overdoses.

Behind each of these statistics, there are real people, families and communities who have been impacted. Yet, in the face of these urgent realities, there is hope. The 988 Lifeline helps thousands of struggling people overcome suicidal crisis or mental-health related distress every day.

People can call or text 988, or chat, for themselves or if they are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support. 988 serves as a universal entry point so that no matter where you live in the United States, you can reach a trained crisis counselor who can help.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255 (TALK), initially launched in 2005 and received more than 46,000 calls for help in the first year of operation. In 2018, Congress enacted the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act, requiring a feasibility study into designating a three-digit dialing code for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline system. In 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established 988 as the new three-digit dialing code for the Lifeline and finalized their order to implement it effective July 16, 2022. The previous 800 number will still work and will connect with the same services as the easier-to-remember 988 dialing code does.

When calling 988, callers first hear a greeting message while their call is routed to the local Lifeline network crisis center (based on the caller’s area code). A trained crisis counselor answers the phone, listens to the caller, understands how their problem is affecting them, provides support, and shares resources if needed. If the local crisis center is unable to take the call, the caller is automatically routed to a national backup crisis center. The Lifeline provides live crisis center phone services in English and Spanish and uses Language Line Solutions to provide translation services in over 250 additional languages for people who call 988. Text and Chat access to the Lifeline is currently available only in English currently.

The Lifeline has demonstrated its value in supporting those experiencing a mental health crisis. Numerous studies have shown that most Lifeline callers are significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful after speaking to a Lifeline crisis counselor.

Almost 98% of people who call, chat or text the 988 Lifeline get the crisis support they need and do not require additional services in that moment. The 988 Lifeline crisis counselors are trained to help reduce the intensity of a situation for the person seeking help, and connect them to additional local resources, as needed, to support their wellbeing.

988 was established to improve access to crisis services in a way that meets our country’s growing suicide and mental health-related crisis care needs. 988 provides easier access to the Lifeline network and related crisis resources, which are distinct from the public safety purposes of 911 (where the focus is on dispatching Emergency Medical Services, fire and police as needed).

Anyone in a U.S. state, territory, or tribe who needs suicide or mental health-related crisis support, or who has a loved one in crisis, can connect through the 988 Lifeline with a trained counselor. The longer-term vision is that the transition to 988 will spur the growth of a robust crisis care system across our country that links callers to community-based providers who can deliver a full range of crisis care services (like mobile crisis teams or stabilization centers). Currently, such crisis care services do not exist in all areas of the country, and it will take time and sustained support for this crisis care system to evolve.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month —a time to raise awareness of this stigmatized, and often taboo, topic. We join with advocacy organizations everywhere in ensuring that individuals, friends and families have access to the resources they need to discuss suicide prevention and to seek help. Following years of preparation, 988 is now available nationwide as the new number to contact for mental health, substance use and suicide crises — a simple, easy-to-remember way for people to get help. This new number will allow people to quickly connect with support during a crisis, 24/7, no matter where they live.

Employee assistance programs that are a part of employer-sponsored health programs are valuable resources for assisting employees with mental health. Your benefits consultant is a partner in communicating these benefits and encouraging utilization so that your employees’ total health is being addressed.

About Kelly Gonzales
Kelly Gonzales, Account Executive, joined AP Keenan in 2022 and works with Southern California education clients to design and deliver effective strategies to address the health and welfare benefit needs of their employees, dependents, and retirees. She utilizes her hands-on knowledge of labor negotiations and public agencies to serve as a strategic partner to clients to aid them in providing and managing exceptional employee benefit programs