Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis will have a new number to call starting July 16: 988. It’s short and easy to remember like 911. But instead of general emergencies, 988 is for suicide and crisis intervention.
It will be available to everyone in the country to call or text. Trained professionals will provide help from more than 200 local crisis centers around the country. People who call will first hear an automated message and options to press, in addition to music, while they are connected to their local crisis center. They will then be able to speak with a trained crisis worker.
“Our goal is to weave together all these states that have disparate programs,” Health And Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said. “Problem is it’s 50 separate parts. We don’t own it, but we’re trying to bring it together like the glue.”
In 2021, more than 2.5 million people called the ten digit 1-800 number 988 is replacing. That’s the highest number since the hotline began in 2005.
Success over the long term will depend on cooperation between states and the federal government. HHS is pouring more than $280 million into the transition to 988 this year. That includes $170 million for network operations, telephone infrastructure and $105 million for staffing at local crisis call centers.
“All of us working together, we in the federal government, our state and territorial partners must step up. Do this right for the people who need 9-8-8,” Secretary Becerra said when announcing the funding last year. “We’re only as strong as our weakest link, and when it comes to saving lives we can’t afford any weak links.”
In a survey of local health officials by Rand Corporation, only 16 percent said their agency budgeted for the transition and long-term funding of 988.
“We conclude that there is likely not a sufficient and clear source of funding because relatively few survey respondents reported having one,” the Rand surveyors wrote in their report.
In addition, the bill creating 988 allows states to add a fee to cell phone bills for funding, but so far only four states have done that, NPR reported.
The number of crisis centers differs from state to state. For example Florida, New Jersey, California and the D.C. area have multiple crisis centers dispersed throughout their cities and counties. But Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Nebraska only have one each, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s 988 website.