988 suicide and emotional crisis hotline starts July 16

Agency hopes the three-digit lifeline will make it easier for anyone in crisis to get help.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will launch a three digit phone number, 988, at midnight on July 16 to make it easier for people in crisis to reach out for help.

“988 has been designated as the new three-digit dialing code that will route callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline,” the suicide crisis hotline said. “While some areas may be currently able to connect to the Lifeline by dialing 988, this dialing code will be available to everyone across the United States starting on July 16.” 

The 988 suicide and crisis lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers providing free and confidential support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24/7. “We’re committed to improving crisis services and advancing suicide prevention by empowering individuals, advancing professional best practices, and building awareness,” the lifeline’s website states.

Other agencies, such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, are working with Suicide Prevention to implement 988. Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, a national suicide prevention center, located in Los Angeles, will be leading the California launch by partnering with 13 total crisis centers across the state who together field over 270,000 calls a year to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

Didi Hirsch provides crisis counselors to over 350 callers, chatters, and texters each day and lists the following national data as reasons its service is important. 

  • 1.4 million adults attempt suicide each year.
  • On average 147 people are impacted by one suicide.
  • 6,643 Americans between 10-24 years of age died by suicide in 2020.
  • Between 2009 and 2021, the share of American high school students who said they feel “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” increased from 26% to a record 44%, per a new Centers for Disease Control study. 
  • For adolescents ages 10 to 19, emergency room visits for self-harm increased 88% from 2001 to 2019.

In San Benito County, 988 calls will be routed to Central Coast Suicide Prevention which also serves Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. Juan Gutierrez, staff analyst with San Benito Behavioral Health said his agency contracted with the Central Coast Suicide Prevention for $28,100 to help staff the 988 call line. Amounts paid per county is based on a per capita rate and funding comes for the California Mental Health Services Act. He said Behavioral Health’s crisis line, which operates outside of business hours, received 1,772 calls in the 2021-22 fiscal year—40% from clients and 60% from non-clients. He added suicide-specific calls are a small number of those calls. 

“It will be a valuable resource,’ Gutierrez said. “It’s better to have more resources than not enough.” 

Gutierrez said calling a three-digit number will be easier then dialing a 10-digit one or calling 911, in order to immediately get someone to help when a caller is facing a self-harm or suicide crises. 988 operators will be trained in deescalation techniques. 

Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital’s emergency services did not respond to requests for local statistics on suicide attempts, suicidal thoughts or self-harm admissions. 

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Carmel de Bertaut

Carmel has a BA in Natural Sciences/Biodiversity Stewardship from San Jose State University and an AA in Communications Studies from West Valley Community College. She reports on science and the environment, arts and human interest pieces. Carmel has worked in the ecological and communication fields and is an avid creative writer and hiker. She has been reporting for BenitoLink since May, 2018 and covers Science and the Environment and Arts and Culture.