Good news! There’s a new way to access help if you or a loved one are in the throes of a mental health crisis. On July 16, the United States officially transitioned from the 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for around-the-clock crisis care to a three-digit number: 9-8-8. It is now officially called the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
The number, which is modeled after 9-1-1, is designed to be easy to remember so it can effectively connect people in crisis to a trained mental health professional. It’s intended for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis, including everything from suicidal thoughts to substance abuse issues or emotional distress.
The lifeline connects callers to a network of more than 200 local crisis call centers around the country. That means people can engage with a trained counselor located at a crisis center near them. This professional is equipped to provide free, confidential emotional support. If that center is too busy, the call immediately gets routed to a backup center.
In the past, people relied on 9-1-1, which was not equipped to handle mental health crises. As a result, many people ended up in emergency rooms where they waited for long periods of time to get help. Too many mental health crises led to contact with the police at a time when individuals really needed to interact with a trained mental health professional.
This new approach is intended to change all that. When someone calls 9-8-8, they can expect to speak with a compassionate crisis counselor who will determine whether they need additional intervention, which would likely be in the form of a mobile crisis team.
The new hotline is long overdue. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates increased 30% between 2000 and 2018 before declining in 2019 and 2020. Suicide remains a leading cause of death in this country, with about one death every 11 minutes.
Dr. David Lowenstein is a Columbus, Ohio-based psychologist with more than 35 years of experience. He conducts individual, family, and group therapy sessions in his German Village office and also via telehealth. Dr. Lowenstein is also available for expert forensic testimony, and for educational workshops and presentations. He is frequently called upon as an expert source for print, radio, and broadcast media. Contact Dr. Lowenstein at Lowenstein & Associates, 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.