Starting July 16, Americans experiencing mental health crises will only have to remember a three-digit number to get help: 988.
Bipartisan legislation signed by then-President Donald Trump in 2020 established the equivalent of 911 for mental health emergencies. People who call, text, or contact the number online will be connected to trained counselors from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network, which will also keep its existing 1-800-273-8255 hotline number, the Smithsonian magazine reports
The hotline is desperately needed: According to the CDC, almost 46,000 Americans took their own lives in 2020 and more than 12 million attempted suicide. It is the second most common cause of death for children 10 to 14 years old and adults 25 to 34 years old. One issue, however, is funding: Even with an extra $282 million approved in December to boost infrastructure and keep centers staffed, crisis centers in many states are expected to face a shortfall in funding. Some 17% of calls to the existing hotline last year were abandoned before the caller could be connected to a counselor.
The legislation that created the 988 hotline allows states to raise money with a monthly fee on phone bill but so far only four have done so: Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, and Washington. In California Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan has introduced a bill for a surcharge of a maximum 30 cents a month on phone bills to fund the hotline and mobile response teams. "Like 911, 988 will be a forever system that individuals in mental health crisis have access to," she tells the New York Times. "Like our 911 system, it needs ongoing funding that’s consistent