About 988

About 988

What is 988?

On July 16th, 2022, 988 became the national three-digit phone number for all mental health, substance use, and suicide crises. 988 calls are routed to the The Helpline Center, South Dakota’s only 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline center (formerly known as  the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline).  Transitioning from 1.800.273.8255 (TALK), 988 will offer 24/7 access to trained crisis specialists.

When someone calls, chats, or texts 988, they can expect to be connected to a crisis specialist who is trained and prepared to deliver support to anyone experiencing a crisis. Because a crisis is defined by the person or family experiencing it, the crisis specialist will engage with the person to understand and address the person’s unique concerns and needs. The intervention may include assessment, stabilization, referral, and follow-up for individuals at high risk for suicide and/or poor mental health outcomes. 

988 is opening the door to a robust crisis system that can de-escalate mental health crises and connect individuals to the most appropriate care. With 988 as the first component of our system, we hope to see:

  • A change in the community response to behavioral health crises
  • A decrease in suicides and other poor mental health outcomes
  • A reduction in health care spending and use of law enforcement with more cost-effective early intervention

While 988 will be available nationally, it is up to each state to ensure crisis services are adequately funded and available to anyone, anywhere, anytime. The 988 Implementation Plan for South Dakota was finalized in January 2022 with the Behavioral Health Crisis Response Stakeholder Coalition. The Stakeholder group has key members from behavioral health crisis response and prevention services across the state.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why 988?

988 is more than just a number. It will strengthen our larger crisis care system. It will help implement a unified crisis standard of care and ensure that everyone in crisis gets the help they need when they need it. It will also help with linking those in crisis to community-based providers.

How will 988 differ from 911 and 211?

211 is a non-emergency number for finding community resources, such as food banks and shelters. 911 is currently used for all emergencies, including mental health emergencies. Mental health crisis calls may result in potentially dangerous and traumatizing outcomes when police are called, especially in historically marginalized communities. Despite their best efforts, 911 dispatchers usually have not received specific training on how to handle mental health and suicide related calls. Although law enforcement response is often not necessary or appropriate for mental health crisis situations, police are typically the first responders activated by 911 calls.

988 is a mental health crisis number and calls are handled by trained counselors to assist people in emotional distress or suicidal crisis.  In fact, based on data provided by Lifeline call centers, approximately 98% of answered Lifeline calls do not require an emergency response. Of the 2% of the calls that do require emergency response, over 60% of those calls are ones where the caller agrees that emergency services are needed and collaborates with the Lifeline counselor to receive those services.

When should you call 988?

Anyone in need of crisis support for themselves or someone else should call 988.

SAMHSA views 988 as an opportunity to transform our country’s behavioral health crisis system to respond to anyone in need. The Lifeline accepts calls from anyone who is suicidal or in emotional distress, including substance use crisis.

How will 988 and 911 interact?

988 is designed to collaborate with 911 centers to assist with mental health calls. The Helpline Center will be working with each PSAP in the state to create a partnership between 988 and 911. 911 transfer calls to 988 such as callers in an emotional crisis or callers expressing mental health needs that are not suicidal. 911 will also transfer calls to 988 when callers are suicidal and alert but not requiring dispatch. 988 will work with 911 for calls requiring an emergency medical response or law enforcement response.

Is the 1.800.273.8255 (TALK) Lifeline number going away?

No. Moving to 988 does not mean the 800 number goes away. Dialing either number will get people to the same services, no matter which number they use. In the end, 988 is an easier-to-remember way for all Americans to access a strengthened and expanded network of crisis call centers.

Does 988 use geolocation?

No, geolocation services are not enabled for 988. The Lifeline currently automatically routes calls by area code to the nearest crisis center based on the area code of the caller’s phone number. Call routing and geolocation are related location issues but involve different technical, legal, privacy, and cost considerations. As part of the 2020 Designation Act, the Federal Communications Commission submitted a report examining the feasibility and cost of including an automatic dispatchable location that would be conveyed with a 988 call. Within that report, the FCC recommended that Congress require that a multi-stakeholder group be convened to further examine the key issues and collaborate on potential next steps. The FCC held a 988 Geolocation Forum in May 2022 and the agency is actively analyzing the information gathered during that forum, including whether potential routing improvements could help callers to 988 connect to the regional call centers where they are located without sharing specific geolocation information.

What happens when I chat via 988?

Chat (English only) is available through the Lifeline’s website at 988lifeline.org/chat. People seeking chat services are provided a pre-chat survey before connecting with a counselor, who identifies the main area of concern. If there is a wait to chat with a crisis counselor, a wait-time message will appear. If demand is high, people can access the Lifeline’s helpful resources while waiting. Once you are connected, a crisis counselor listens to you, works to understand how your problem is affecting you, provides support, and shares resources that may be helpful. 

What happens when I text 988?

When someone texts to 988, they are responded to by a group of Lifeline crisis centers that answer both chats and texts. This service will expand over the next few years to increase local and state level response. Once you are connected, a crisis counselor listens to you, works to understand how your problem is affecting you, provides support, and shares resources that may be helpful. Currently, texting is available in English only.

Additional Resources