After years of development, on Saturday, July 16, states will release a new National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number, 988, the shorthand number following the model emergency number 911. Also, all phone service providers must connect dialers to the lifeline if they use the 988. Maureen Iselin, National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention Spokesperson, says, “on July 16, our country enters a new era of crisis services,” marking the momentous occasion.
Health care professionals say it will help maintain accessibility and enhance the service. Still, experts fear that some states are not ready for the launch; with projected increases in call volume, experts feel that they may not have the necessary resources to handle the switch effectively. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, Director Angela Kimball says, “Congress has allocated some one-time funding and funds for the national lifeline, they have not financed 988 as an entire crisis response system across the country. And so really, it is up to states to step up to the plate and create the funding streams, but many states have allocated insufficient resources.”
Users can reach mental health professionals in crisis centers via number or text. If there is a shortage of local staff, calls will be rerouted to the national backup center.
Experts are marking the shortened number as “a transformative moment in terms of thinking about approaching crisis care,” says Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, an assistant secretary at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The launch comes on the heels of the rise of mental health cases due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. According to the Arkansas Department of Health, in 2020, suicide was the leading cause of violent death in Arkansas, with a loss of 583 Arkansans.