On November 18, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unanimously voted to expand access to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Lifeline) by requiring text messages sent to 988 by routed to Lifeline beginning on July 16, 2022. The expansion comes as the latest development in the FCC’s adopted rules to establish 988 as the new national, three-digit phone number for Americans in crisis to access suicide prevention services and mental health counselors. The roll-out of 988 will happen over a two-year period, with the transition initiated in July 2020 and final implementation expected to be complete by July 16, 2022. At-risk individuals can call 1-800-273-8255 to reach Lifeline today – 988 is not a nationwide calling code yet.
Counties are an integral part of the local behavioral health crisis care continuum and will be key facilitators of the implementation of the 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The expanded ability to send text messages directly to Lifeline will improve access for at-risk communities, youth and individuals with disabilities.
In 2020, 44,834 individuals died by suicide in the United States, and evidence suggests that the COVID-19 public health emergency has only exacerbated stress on the mental health and wellbeing of many Americans. Studies also find that suicide significantly impacts at-risk communities, including youth, the Black and LGBTQ+ communities, veterans, and those with hearing, visual, or speech disabilities among others. The introduction of text message ability for 988 will allow those to more easily contact a crisis counselor by permitting increased anonymity as opposed to engaging in a phone conversation.
For more information on Lifeline’s transition to calling 988, click here. NACo will continue to monitor updates to the 988 Lifeline program and provide updates as needed.