Dial 988 – Why Nonprofits Will Be Using It


Once in a while, we experience emergencies in different forms, and when this happens, our first reaction is to call for help if we are unable to be of help to the situation ourselves. When calling for help from the state, we call the 911 toll-free line for all our emergencies. But over the years, this has shown that not all types of emergencies (such as mental health emergencies) are handled properly by the officers that respond to the 911 calls for help. This is evident from the research findings published by PEW.

This led to the search for another helpline for such emergencies. For this reason, the federal communications commission (FCC) released a report in consultation with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Department of Veteran Affairs, and the  North American Numbering Council. The FCC recommended that 988 be used as the 3-digit number for National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the report. 

This is also a timely service given that the number of suicide cases that would have been prevented happened because of the lack of expertise in handling behavioral health crises. As stated in the research by PEW.  For perspective, suicide has continuously ranked tenth in the leading causes of death in the U.S. since 2008, with 44,000 Americans losing their lives through suicide in 2020, which was just two years ago. 

The number of suicides also worsened with the advent of the COVID-19, which caused an increase in depression, which led to an increase in the number of people with suicidal thoughts. This disturbing trend, as discussed by the CDC, made the need for the dedicated 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline prudent.  Responders of the 988 dialing code are trained specifically for the kind of people they are expected to meet. With the rolling out of the 988 lines, the FCC hopes there will be a drop in suicide rates and an increase in help for those experiencing suicidal thoughts.

With the release of the report on 988 and the rollout of the three-digit dialing code by the FCC, organizations, and companies are advised to list the code together with the 911 code on their websites. This call is especially directed to organizations that work with individuals at risk of suicide or mental health issues when an emergency arises, so that such individuals may be supported.

This announcement was made early by The Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which administers the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs, to give phone companies, covered text providers, and other organizations enough transition time for required network changes and adjustments.

Calls to the 988 line will be directed to Lifeline starting July 16, 2022, with an increased volume of calls expected by the Department of Health and Human Services in charge of the 988 helplines. 

The 988 lifelines, as a national helpline, functions 24/7 providing support to people in crisis. The helpline is available for both calls and text messages, giving options to people in crisis for calling for help. More people will have the chance to receive the help they need with the anticipated better service and attention such individuals would receive from the respondents of the 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Health organizations and other organizations that serve individuals at risk of suicide are advised to promote the 988 helpline through community education campaigns and outreach, especially to low-income communities where the negative reports of injury or death occurred during responses to suicide distress calls using the 911 emergency line. 

These community outreach and education campaigns are to be done by organizations and nonprofits in addition to the listing of the 988 hotlines on their organization websites. The publicity of the 988 hotlines, a critical resource, will help save lives but will also take significant work. 

Health organizations that want to find the areas on their website that already have 911 listed for help may want to add 988 as another resource if an emergency is related to mental health. The Inclusivity Tool can help aggregate mentions of “911,” so you can adjust the language if it makes sense. See the SAMHSA website for the latest guidance around 988, including FAQs, resources, and key messaging.