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Call 988: New suicide hotline number to launch in July

As the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline prepares to switch to a 3-digit phone number, there are concerns over funding.
Published: May. 2, 2022 at 10:28 AM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but July will bring big changes to the way Americans can access mental health care.

Starting July 16, people can dial 988 to be connected to a local crisis center from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

“988 really represents this opportunity for us to destigmatize reaching out for help,” said Laura Evans, the Director of National and State Policy for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

When 988 goes live, the Lifeline team thinks the number of calls for help over the course of a year will increase by 5 million.

Nearly 50,000 Americans die by suicide every year. After accidents, it is the second leading cause of death for preteens ages 10 to 14 and young adults ages 25 to 34.

Hannah Wesolowski from the National Alliance on Mental Illness believes the new hotline number will have a major impact, but warns some states may not be ready to handle the influx of calls.

“There’s a real fear that people who live in certain areas are going to fall further behind,” Wesolowski said.

According to National Academy for State Health Policy, as of January, just 13 states passed legislation to fund the expenses to operate 988. The Department of Health and Human Services contributed $282 million to assist nationwide, but Wesolowski wants more support from the federal government.

“We need to make sure our mental health system is sound and ready to deal with events like the pandemic,” Wesolowski said.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) is one of the lawmakers on Capitol Hill leading the charge to direct more federal money to local crisis centers.

“The demand is not going down,” Cornyn said. “It’s going up.”

He’s sponsoring the Suicide and Crisis Outreach Prevention Enhancement Act. The legislation would increase federal funding by $42.8 million a year. The bill also aims to spread awareness for the hotline and improve access for low-income users by making calls free on pre-paid phone plans.

Until 988 is active, if you or someone you know is in crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741.

Multimedia Journalist Natalie Grim contributed to this report.

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