WASHINGTON, DC -- Starting tomorrow, Saturday, July 16, people experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis, or families worried that a loved one may need suicide intervention assistance, can dial a simple three-digit number (988) to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.  The Lifeline is a nationwide network of crisis centers linked through a 24/7 toll-free number that connects callers in crisis to immediate intervention services and care with trained counselors.  It provides free and confidential support, prevention, and crisis resources.

U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) co-authored the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act (Public Law No: 116-172) in 2020 with then-Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) to designate 988 as a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline.

The hotline is currently accessible -- and will continue to be accessible -- using the 10-digit number: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).  Additionally, after multi-year planning and after Senators Reed, Moran, and Baldwin helped deliver federal capacity-building grants to states for staffing and technology upgrades, the new, simplified 988 number will go live later this month as an option to connect to the Lifeline via call, text, or chat.

“Trimming the number from ten digits to 988 will help make it easier for people to remember and ensure those experiencing a mental health crisis or having suicidal thoughts can quickly access the help they need,” said Senator Reed. “When someone makes a call for help, we want to ensure they are connected to a trained crisis intervention counselor who can properly assist, just like a trained dispatcher and police provide a coordinated response when someone calls 911.  After a two year transition and significant state and federal investment, 988 should be ready to go live and help save lives.”

“Now, more than ever, Kansans and the entire country will benefit from greater access to critical suicide prevention and mental health services,” said Senator Moran. “Designating 9-8-8 as a nationwide suicide help and prevention number provides an easy-to-remember and easy-to-access service for people to dial when they need a helping hand. Just like Americans reach for their phones to dial 9-1-1 in an emergency, this three-digit number can now provide immediate, professional help for those struggling with mental illness.”

“We need to do everything we can to help those in mental health crises and prevent suicide, and that means improving the tools and resources they have when they are suffering,” said Senator Baldwin. “After working to get my bipartisan legislation signed into law and ensure funding for the implementation, I am so proud to see this quick and easy three-digit phone number launch so Americans in crisis can get the timely help and support they need. This will save lives.”

To help save lives and ensure a smooth transition to the new three-digit number, the Biden administration committed $280 million this year and last year to fund both the hotline and 24/7 staff increases for states.  Congress also provided an additional $150 million in the new bipartisan gun violence prevention law to strengthen the 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.  Additionally, that new law includes a national expansion of community behavioral health clinics, which would bring new resources to states to tackle mental health and substance use disorders.

The Senators stressed that even after the 988 launch on July 16, people experiencing life-threatening emergencies should still call 911 for immediate police, fire and medical assistance.  People can dial 988 for suicide prevention help, mental health assistance, or substance use crises, or any other kind of severe emotional distress.  If people are unsure, they should call 911, which is for immediate police response, whereas 988 connects callers to a trained counselor who can listen, connect callers to the right support resources, and prevent the need for serious medical intervention.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes: “Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States, with 45,979 deaths in 2020. This is about one death every 11 minutes. The number of people who think about or attempt suicide is even higher. In 2020, an estimated 12.2 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.2 million planned a suicide attempt, and 1.2 million attempted suicide.”

Suicide is a public health problem that affects people of all ages and backgrounds. 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year-olds in the U.S.  NAMI reports that nearly 20 percent of high school students report serious thoughts of suicide, and about 9 percent have made an attempt to take their lives.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises depression and suicide risk screenings for all adolescents age 12 and older, according to their updated schedule for preventative care.