A year after its launch, a short, easy-to-remember number for people experiencing mental health emergencies is connecting more than 380,000 daily requests for help to caring workers.Girl sitting in dark staring at phone


In a mental health emergency, every second matters, so having support that is easy to access quickly is vital. That’s one reason the national suicide and crisis hotline changed from a 10-digit number to a three-digit one in July 2022. Since then, workers with the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline have responded to roughly 5 million calls, chats and texts, up by more than 2 million from 2021.


Response time to calls has improved as well: Lifeline callers now only wait about half a minute to connect with someone, compared to a two-and-a-half-minute wait in 2022, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration metrics show.


The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a network of more than 200 state and local call centers, supported by SAMHSA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and administered by Vibrant Emotional Health. The free, easy-to-remember 988 number connects people looking for help with suicide, mental health and substance use-related crises via calls, texts and chats.


Such a large network requires funding, personnel and other resources to meet the demand for mental health services, said Tia Dole, PhD, chief officer of 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. About $1 billion has been invested in the helpline via federal funding, and about half of states have also passed appropriations, she said.


In its first year of service 18 years ago, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, as it was then called, received 46,000 calls. A Spanish-language option was added in 2006 and a veterans’ crisis line was created in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2007.

988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline sign


When the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020 became law, the Federal Communications Commission was required to designate 988 as the number for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline. U.S. telecommunications providers activated the 988 number nationwide on July 16, 2022.


In conjunction with 988’s one-year anniversary this month, new services and options have been added. The lifeline launched a Spanish text and chat service, and after a successful pilot program, launched a call, chat and text service for LGBTQ+ people, Dole told The Nation’s Health.


Future plans include developing and implementing a direct 988 Lifeline video-phone option for deaf or hard-of-hearing American Sign Language users and a national awareness campaign to familiarize the public with what the lifeline is, what to expect when they reach out and when to use it.


Help is available if you or your loved ones are facing a crisis. Call or text 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org. Spanish speakers can connect directly to Spanish-speaking crisis counselors by calling 988 and pressing option 2, texting AYUDA to 988, or chatting online at 988lineadevida.org or 988Lifeline.org.


Top photo by Mikoto.raw, courtesy Pexels