Jul 15, 2022 - News

Dial 988 for mental health crises starting Saturday

Illustration of a phone with the wire in the shape of a heart.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

There's a new three-digit lifeline that people in mental health crises can call or text starting Saturday and get immediate help: 988.

Why it matters: The new 988 is the mental health equivalent of 911.

  • It was created through bipartisan federal legislation signed in 2020 to address the growing need for suicide prevention.
  • Suicide has been one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. since 2008, the CDC reports. And in 2020, suicide became the second leading cause of death among people ages 10-14 and 25-34.

How it works: The digits route callers or texters to a local call center where they'll reach a trained crisis counselor.

States that have enacted legislation to implement and fund the 988 hotline
Data: National Academy for State Health Policy; Map: Nicki Camberg/Axios

Driving the news: Every state in the nation is required to launch the new number Saturday — and Virginia is better prepared than many others.

  • "Virginia has been ahead of the curve thanks to state legislation," Lauren Cunningham, communications director for the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, tells Axios.
  • Virginia passed legislation in 2021 creating and funding a 988 call center under the department and is one of 21 states prepared for 988 to go live, according to an analysis by the National Academy for State Health Policy.
  • Virginia's funding comes through a $0.12 surcharge on wireless charges and a $0.08 surcharge for prepaid wireless.

What they're saying: "Virginia has increased its ability to answer national suicide prevention line calls in state by 33% since January of 2021, in large part due to the enhanced assistance provided to our call centers. During this same time, we saw an increase in calls by 23%," Cunningham said.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (en Español: 1-888-628-9454; deaf and hard of hearing: dial 711 then 1-800-273-8255) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.


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