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National 988 dialing code for suicide prevention goes live

Last month, the 988 three-digit dialing code went live nationwide. It replaces the 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Congress authorized and designated the new 988 dialing code in 2020 to make the suicide hotline easier for individuals to remember and access. Individuals who call, text or chat 988 will be connected to trained counselors that are part of the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network of over 200 crisis centers. Officials responsible for the new system warn that it may take time before enough trained personnel are in place to keep up with the expected increase in volume of calls.

The 988 system not only provides easier access to individuals at risk of suicide, but it also provides an important tool for states and local communities to engage in conversation and planning about harmonizing the 988 and 911 systems to respond to individuals in crisis. The long-term goal of a large coalition of behavioral health and criminal justice experts is for the 988 dialing code to become a universal entry point to a wide range of crisis services, as 911 is for emergency medical services. In time, the goal is to merge, or co-locate, 911 and 988 dispatch activities to provide the most appropriate services, by the most appropriate responder, to individuals in need.

NCJA members are encouraged to help raise public awareness about the new dialing code. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at the Department of Health and Human Services has a wealth of information about 988 as well as a partner toolkit for states, local governments, non-profit service providers and other interested organizations. NCJA recently published a 988 Fact Sheet for SAAs and posted a podcast (see episode 13) about 988 and its potential to transform crisis response services.

SAMHSA and the Bureau of Justice Assistance are supporting a digital “Day of Action” this Wednesday, July 20, focused on informing criminal justice stakeholders about the opportunities the new code presents. The 988 Day of Action will take place on social media using the hashtag #988forPublicSafety, as well as SAMHSA’s hashtag, #988Lifeline.