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  • Writer's pictureJoss Burns

988 - What’s your mental health emergency?

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

woman listing to call at crisis call center

When we experience an emergency situation and require assistance, our minds often jump to three numbers: 911. However, if the emergency is related to mental health, crisis support, or suicide, there’s another that offers more tailored support to individuals in distress.

That number is 988 and will put you in contact with a specialized, fully-confidential suicide and crisis line.

The 988 lifeline is a national service, managed by each state, that provides mental health support services to local residents. If you’re suffering from a crisis, please call the number now to receive support.

For anyone interested in helping with the initiative on a volunteer or paid basis, there is more information at the bottom of this post.

Background and information about 988

If this number doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because it was only introduced on July 16, 2022 to replace the longer, 10-digit number 1-800-273-8255. For anyone who is used to this number, don’t worry, it still works and will continue to do so.

The 988 lifeline was introduced with the primary purpose of providing counseling to individuals who are feeling particularly vulnerable and would like some support. Funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and administered by Vibrant Emotional Health (Vibrant), the lifeline is manned by a large network of trained counselors.

The suicide and crisis line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for either calls or texts, depending on your preference or ability. Any calls placed in Illinois will be routed to a local center. If unavailable, please be patient and do not hang up as you will be routed to an out-of-state counselor.

Why should I call 988?

If you struggle with mental health, there are times when you may feel particularly low or upset.

Often, having the ability to call someone who is there to listen and trained to provide support can help you to feel less suicidal, depressed, overwhelmed, and see more hope in the situation.

What happens when I call?

The 988 network is made up of over 200 local crisis centers with many trained counselors on staff. These individuals provide free, fully-confidential emotional support and have access to various resources that can help you to regain control of your mental health.

If the counselor believes it to be necessary, a team of trained professionals who specialize in mental health support will be sent to the caller’s home. These individuals will work with the patient to safely deescalate the situation (if necessary) and provide emotional support or further resources.

As a rule of thumb, the law enforcement won’t be included in these visits unless there is a weapon involved in the situation.

If you need help, don’t delay – call 988.

Pressing 1: Veteran support

After calling, you have a number of options to receive specific care that’s tailored to you. For example, by pressing 1, you will be connected to the Veterans Crisis Line, which features specialists who are familiar with dealing with ex-military personnel.

Pressing 2: Spanish Speakers

Para español, pulsa 2.

There are a number of services available for speakers of other languages apart from English. By pressing 2, you will be automatically connected to a Spanish speaker who will be able to help you with your situation.

In total, there are 40 languages supported through a Tele-Interpreters service. You will have to indicate your preferred language to an agent, who will find a way to connect you to the right person.

Pressing 3: LGBTQI+

Most recently, a third option has been added, which allows individuals from the LGBTQI+ community to seek support. The counselor assigned to you will specialize in helping and supporting LGBTQI+ callers and can provide you with further resources.

Would you like to work on the 988 lifeline?

While the 988 lifeline is a national program, every state is responsible for organizing and administering its own services. The overarching goal of the line is to ensure that nobody who needs help is left alone.

Of course, this comes with certain logistical challenges. If a person in need rings or texts the lifeline and nobody from an Illinois center is available, their call will be routed to a counselor from another state.

While those individuals are just as well trained and empathetic, the answering times can be slower than with in-state centers. It can also be more difficult for out-of-state counselors to assign the right resources to the caller as each state is slightly different or they lack local knowledge.

Recently, there has been a huge effort to ensure that more Illinois callers are connected to centers near them, with the number rising from an average of 19% in-state connections to 81%. The length of time callers are left waiting has also decreased dramatically, falling from an average of 170 seconds to just 36.

This is an incredible increase that has a real, genuine impact on the individuals making use of the service. But there’s still more to be done – and that’s where you come in.

Working with the 988 lifeline

The 988 lifeline centers have opportunities to incorporate both volunteers and paid employees. Anyone who signs up will receive appropriate training and will have the opportunity to provide genuine support to those who most need it.

Please visit the careers website for the suicide and crisis line to find the position that best suits your talents.

For other inquiries, you can contact us at Mental Health America of Illinois here.


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