Support and Safety: The 988 Lifeline

By Ashley Barnes

What is 988?

The 988 Lifeline is a suicide and crisis lifeline that launched on July 16, 2022. Before this, 988 was formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255; while either phone number will lead callers to the same place, condensing the original number to three digits reflects the effort to make the crisis service more accessible.

The 988 Lifeline is not just for those experiencing suicidal thoughts. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 988 “​​offers 24/7 call, text and chat access to trained crisis counselors who can help people experiencing suicidal, substance use, and/or mental health crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress. People can also dial 988 if they are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support” (2022). 

What to expect when you reach out to 988.

When people call 988, they will hear a greeting message while their call is routed to a local crisis center based on the caller’s area code. Then, a trained crisis counselor will answer the phone and listen to the caller’s concerns; counselors will provide empathetic listening and support and may share resources if needed. In cases where a local crisis center isn’t able to take a call, it is rerouted to a crisis center somewhere else in the United States. The Lifeline provides phone services in English and Spanish, also using Language Line Solutions to translate into 250 additional languages (SAMHSA, 2022). 

When people text 988, a crisis counselor will read texts, listen to people’s concerns, and will provide empathetic responses, often sharing helpful resources as well. Currently, texting is only available in English. When people chat the 988 number through the Lifeline website, they are linked to a pre-chat survey before connecting with a crisis counselor. If there is a wait to chat with a crisis counselor, a wait-time message will appear. Currently, chat is only available in English.

988 vs. 911.

The 988 Lifeline provides easier access to crisis resources, which are “distinct from the public safety purposes of 911 (where the focus is on dispatching Emergency Medical Services, fire and police as needed)” (SAMHSA, 2022).

If you reach out to the 988 Lifeline, first responders (like the police or EMS) will not be automatically dispatched; similarly, you will not be automatically hospitalized. The primary goal of the 988 Lifeline is to provide person-centered support for those experiencing a mental health-related crisis. Fewer than 2% of Lifeline calls require connection to emergency services like 911 (SAMSHA, 2022). The 988 coordinated response is “intended to promote stabilization and care in the least restrictive manner,”  though some safety and health issues may warrant additional support (such as a suicide attempt in progress) (SAMHSA, 2022). 

The 988 Lifeline is in existence to offer support, hope, and to promote safety.

The 988 Lifeline is not a substitute for therapy or psychiatric services. If you are seeking support from a mental health professional, please contact us at the Mental Health Center for sensitive, attentive care.



SAMHSA. (2022). 988 frequently asked questions. Retrieved August 11, 2022, from