July 27, 2022

We all know the three-digit number to call if you or someone else needs help due to an injury or an immediate danger. But until now, it wasn’t clear who we should call if an emergency isn’t physical. On July 16, the national 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline was launched, making it easier to access mental health crisis services. Those experiencing any mental health distress can simply call or text 9-8-8 to connect with a trained crisis worker providing free and confidential support. The hotline offers help 24/7, 7 days a week, and has a network of over 200 state and local call centers.

The new three-digit dialing code has been in the works since 2020, with the passage of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act. While the National Suicide and Prevention Hotline’s 1-800-273-TALK code was launched in 2005 by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Vibrant Emotional Health, it received little funding. 1-800-273-TALK may still be used, but 988 serves as a more accessible way to reach help for people experiencing suicidal thoughts or any kind of mental distress. Many mental health advocates and lawmakers see 988 as an advance for the mental health care system. The news comes in addition to the Biden administration allotting $432 million towards ramping up mental health crisis centers and services.

Mental health has continued to get worse since the Covid-19 pandemic, and suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for 46,000 deaths in 2020 (the rate is highest for American Indians). By offering free and confidential support, 988 makes mental health care more accessible, affordable, and less stigmatized—which is especially important for marginalized communities around the country. Already, there has been a surge of calls after the launch.

The American Art Therapy Association sees the introduction of the 988 hotline as an important step in addressing America’s mental health crisis. But to keep up with the demands, we urge state and federal lawmakers to fully fund the 988 hotline call centers and resources—and continue to invest in mental health services to ensure everyone gets the help they deserve.