On October 17, 2020, President Trump signed the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020. This act created a new universal telephone number for suicide prevention: 9-8-8, which is to be operated through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. This hotline will be activated across the United States by July 16 in hopes to decrease national suicide rates. The creation of 988 will have callers routed to one of Florida’s 12 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) Center.
How does this work? When a person experiencing a behavior crisis they can call or text 988 and well trained call-takers can effectively handle mental health, substance use, and suicidal crises. If deemed necessary, call takers can send a mobile response team to their location rather than law enforcement. Mobile response teams can de-escalate situations, arrange transportation to crisis stabilization, or connect people to services.
Why is this important? Experts say having a three digit crisis number for mental health emergencies will change the perception of how to respond to a mental crisis. Implementing an easy to remember crisis number will direct someone to a trained professional rather than law enforcement, who typically doesn’t know how to properly respond. Calls normally received by 911 will be diverted to 988, which will relieve law enforcement from responding to situations they may not have the training to handle. This will save lives! In addition, there will be money saved from the reduce number of rehospitalizations. When a caller uses 988 for the first time, they are linked to services and receive short term stabilization and linked to services in the community.
988 should be a huge victory for mental health advocates. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is planning to wait a year to advertise it to ensure they have correct systems, staff, and protocols.
For more information, check out this infographic from Disability Rights Florida.
The current Lifeline phone number (1-800-273-8255) will always remain available to people in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, even after 988 is launched nationally