The 988 Mental Health Hotline, an idea with roots in Utah, is set to roll out nationwide

The US is poised to move from a 10-digit national suicide prevention hotline to a three-digit suicide and crisis hotline.

The number is 988 and is designed to be as easy to use and remember as 911. However, instead of being connected to police or paramedics, 988 will connect callers to trained mental health counselors.

How it works

The new Suicide and Crisis Helpline is free, confidential and always available.

1-800-273-8255 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will also remain active. But from Saturday 16 July 2022, the number will be routed to the same location as 988.

After connecting, callers can select Veterans Crisis Line or Spanish Language Crisis Line. If neither is selected, the caller with a Utah area code will be directed to the Utah Crisis Line, which is operated by Huntsman Institute of Mental Health.

If the call is not answered within three minutes, it will be sent to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s backup network or to someone in another state.

Nikol Kunya, crisis administrator with Utah Department of Health and Human Services, said that when someone sends an SMS to 988, they will first be directed to a national network. Utah will begin accepting localized text messages and chats in the next few months to a year.

Utah’s journey

In 2013, a good friend of Utah Sen. Daniel Thatcher sought his help after his suicidal son was sent from the emergency room. They were told to come back if the boy got hurt.

Thatcher herself struggled with depression and contemplated suicide when she was young. He knew that desperate people in crisis may not have the resources to seek help or remember the 10-digit national suicide hotline number. He also found that many crisis lines in Utah go straight to police dispatchers or voicemail.

Why wasn’t there a mental health service similar to 911?

“If you get help, you will live. It really is that simple,” Thatcher said.

After he mentioned the idea to the late U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, the idea gained national attention, and in 2020, Congress passed the account indicating 988.

Although this bill was passed just two years ago, Utah has been working to improve mental health care and suicide prevention for nearly a decade. While the state’s suicide rate is steady higher than the national rate, a study open phone and chat crisis lines could prevent 36% of predicted future suicide attempts.

How prepared is Utah?

Rachel Luczynski, director of crisis intervention and community support services at the Huntsman Institute of Mental Health, said Utah is as prepared as possible. The launch of the 988 crisis number is surrounded by many unknowns, but she said call volume is monitored daily so staffing adjustments can be made.

The Huntsman Institute of Mental Health is also trying hire more mental health professionals to meet the needs of the crisis line.

“If you’re not sure who to turn to, please call 988 and our team is happy to help anyone navigate these situations,” Luczynski said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.