$282M Allocated to Ease National Suicide Prevention Network's Transition to 988 Hotline

More than $280 million will be allocated for aiding the transition to the national suicide prevention network's new hotline phone number set to be instated in July, federal health officials announced Monday.

The current 10-digit number will be reduced to just three digits, 988, in fulfillment of a longtime goal for mental health advocates, Congressional lawmakers, the Federal Communications Commission and telecommunications industry.

On July 16, 2022, people will be able to use the 988 number to call, text or chat with trained counselors from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Mental health experts hope that the launch of a shorter number will help their efforts to assist people who may be in danger of harming themselves, and they predict that engagement with the call centers will go up once people are aware of the new structure.

Of the $282 million earmarked for the transition to 988, $177 million will be used to fortify and expand the current network. The remaining $105 million will be used to increase staff at call centers.

The Biden administration is working to support the timely launch of the new number in July.

"We know that remembering a three-digit number beats a ten-digit number any day, particularly in times of crisis, and I encourage every state to rev up planning to implement 988 for the sake of saving lives," Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

New Crisis Hotline
People in crisis and those trying to help them will have a new three-digit number, 988, to reach the national suicide prevention network starting in July. Federal health officials on Monday are announcing more than $280 million to smooth the transition from the current 10-digit number. Above, a man jogs past a sign about crisis counseling on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on August 3, 2021. Eric Risberg/AP Photo

Suicide had been the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States, claiming more than 47,000 lives in 2019, but dropped to 11th in 2020, mainly due to the coronavirus pandemic, which killed at least 345,000 Americans and became the nation's No. 3 killer.

Suicide attempts result in more than 300,000 people seen in hospital emergency departments for self-harm injuries. Rates of suicide rose steadily over much of the last 20 years, and it remains a leading cause of premature death for people from their teens well into their 50s.

Recently, the FCC voted unanimously to require phone companies to support texting to 988 as well. Commissioners said nowadays many people may be more inclined to text and the choice of voice or text should make no difference when someone in distress is trying to find help.

The national suicide prevention network currently relies on a 10-digit number, 800-273-TALK (8255), to route calls to crisis centers. The country's largest cellphone companies, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, already support calling 988, according to the FCC. The service may already be available in some parts of the country, although not every community has access yet.

The lifeline has received more than 20 million calls since its inception in 2005, with nearly 2.4 million last year, according to the network's website. Its current 10-digit number will remain available even after 988 is launched.

If you have thoughts of suicide, confidential help is available for free at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-8255. The line is available 24 hours every day.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.