By Rebecca McKinsey
People dealing with mental health crises who are looking for a supportive ear and effective help now have a new number to call: 988.
This new resource, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, is being offered through the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline framework. However, it will offer expanded aid for not only individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts but also those dealing with any other type of mental health crisis.
While calling 911 sometimes results in the arrival of an officer or first responder not trained in mental health issues, calling 988 connects individuals in crisis with trained mental health professionals.
For those who daily experience the intersection of chronic pain and mental distress, this resource could be life-changing.
A new way to seek help
Individuals who are experiencing thoughts of suicide, in a mental health or substance abuse crisis, or dealing with any other kind of emotional distress can call 988 and reach trained crisis counselors 24/7. The resource is also open to those wanting to help a loved one dealing with a mental health crisis.
Those needing help can also text 988, or chat by visiting 988lifeline.org/chat. Veterans calling the lifeline can call 988 and then press 1, or text 838255, to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.
The need for a centralized, focused response to mental health crises is continuing to grow, says Gwenn Herman, a licensed clinical social worker who serves as the U.S. Pain Foundation’s clinical director of Pain Connection support groups and programs.
“There is a suicide every 11 minutes, and suicide is a leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 34,” Herman says. “This is a crisis.”
The 988 Lifeline was introduced by Congress in 2020 and has been developing ever since. It officially launched in July 2022.
“[Congress] wanted to transform the crisis care system so it would develop into an entry point for people that had mental health concerns,” Herman says. “It also reduces reliance on police, because there were a lot of issues with police either not being trained in how to deal with mental health or substance abuse, or if the person calling was in a bad state and saw a police officer, it heightened their paranoia and fear for their lives.”
How it works
Callers initially are routed to a local response station based on their area code, which helps those responding to the calls connect with nearby resources. Those calling from a cellphone with a non-local area code can let the counselor know where they’re located if location-based services are needed.
One aspect that is unique to the 988 Lifeline is that it includes follow-up contact after the initial call, if needed.
Those calling the Lifeline do not need to provide their name or any identifying information to receive help.
Lifeline counselors speak English and Spanish, and use Language Line Solutions to provide translation services in more than 250 additional languages. Currently, the text and chat services are offered only in English. TTY users can call either through their preferred relay services or by dialing 711 and then 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline is in the process of expanding to offer video phone services for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Those administering the Lifeline are offering continued cultural competency training for its crisis counselors. Steps taken so far include Spanish-language clinical guidance resources, the implementation of Deaf and Hard of Hearing best practices, and training for counselors on the experiences and needs of the LGBTQ+ community and American Indians and Alaska Natives.
All services offered through the 988 Lifeline are free, other than personal data and text messaging rates. No insurance or payment is needed to receive help through the Lifeline.
While it is important that anyone experiencing an emergency knows they should still call 911, the large majority of those calling the 988 Lifeline do not need other interventions at the time of their call, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which oversees the Lifeline. Fewer than 2% of Lifeline calls have required connection to emergency services such as 911.
Another tool to help manage pain
Individuals living with chronic pain know what it’s like to be at the end of their rope—a feeling mirrored by so many calling the 988 Lifeline. Having a streamlined source of support that is anonymous, supportive, and connected is vital, Herman says.
“People are afraid to reach out,” she says. “There’s so much stigma. They’re so confused in their heads that they can’t think straight, and they have all those negative messages telling them to give up hope, there’s no sense in living. This is really, really important.”
Herman estimates that nearly everyone living with chronic pain also experiences depression or anxiety, and this resource is another option that can help provide hope when they receive the resources and support they need.
“So many times you have pain, you’re in a flare, you feel like you’re having a complete relapse, and you don’t see anything except for how bad it is,” she says. “If this number can cut through that — we’re always teaching people with chronic pain to have as many tools in their toolbox as possible, and 988 will be another tool that helps you reach out to somebody.”
How to get help
Call or text 988
Chat by visiting
Veterans: Call 988 and press 1, or text 838255
“There is a suicide every 11 minutes, and suicide is a leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 34. This is a crisis.”