This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number will change to 988 on Saturday, a switch that federal officials previously told TODAY will help fight the stigma associated with mental health.
The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, a network of more than 200 state and local call centers supported by the Department of Health and Human Services, will provide 24/7 care for mental health crises and also link to the Veterans Crisis Line. The Federal Communications Commission is requiring all telephone service and text providers in the U.S. to activate 988 by July 16.
“988 is more than a number, it is a message: we’re there for you. Through this and other actions, we are treating mental health as a priority and putting crisis care in reach for more Americans,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a press release. "We are looking to every governor and every state in the nation to do their part to make this a long-term success."
The switch comes as the nation faces a mental health crisis: Since the pandemic began, about 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, up from 1 in 10 in 2019, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. What's more, global rates of depression and anxiety increased by 25% in 2020 alone, according to research published in October 2021 in The Lancet.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline received 3.6 million calls, chats and texts in 2021, a number that's expected to at least double within the first year of 988 becoming available, according to the press release. The previous number, 1-800-723-TALK (8255), will remain active and reroute calls to 988 indefinitely. The current Veterans Crisis Line, 1-800-273-8255, will also stay active.
Former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Ajit Pai spoke exclusively on TODAY about the change back in 2020.
"I simply want the folks to know that the reason the FCC is doing this now is because we want the millions of Americans who have been struggling, who think there's a stigma associated with getting help, we want them to know that they are not alone, that 988 could be the lifeline," Pai told Sheinelle Jones on the 3rd hour of TODAY. "We want to make sure that they get the help they need, so they know they are loved."
The new number also aims to reduce the volume of mental health calls that go to 911. There will be no other changes to the infrastructure of the hotline other than the number.
"We are really at a crossroads right now where the next pandemic is going to be a mental health one unless we do something about it," Dr. Sue Varma, a psychiatrist, previously said on TODAY. "Suicide is a national public health crisis and an emergency."
Suicide became the second-leading cause of death for those ages 10-34 in 2016 and the fourth-leading cause of death for people ages 35-54, according to the CDC.
"That is also why we are experiencing more anxiety, depression and substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, is because of the fear, the uncertainty, the loneliness, economic losses, people in our family are getting sick, and as things are reopening we're afraid, are we gonna be hit with a second wave, so there is just so much going on," Varma said. "Getting a 988 phone number says, this is important."