President Donald Trump has signed a bipartisan bill to create a three-digit hotline number for people to seek help for their mental health issues.
The Federal Communications Commission had already picked the three-digit hotline number 988 for mental health emergencies. The hotline service is will be up and running by July 2022.
Robert Gebbia, CEO of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said, “We are thrilled because this is a game-changer.”
Gebbia and mental health experts believed that this move would make it much easier for more Americans to access mental health care.
The current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK, which has seen a significant rise in the number of call volumes in recent years.
Gebbia said the 10-digit number is not easy to remember or dial, especially when there is an emergency. He said, “When you’re in crisis and you’re already emotionally upset, the hardest thing to do is find the number that’s a 10-digit number and call it.”
A three-digit hotline number makes it a lot easier. Gebbia continued, “When there are other emergencies, we know 911. It’s ingrained in our heads — we don’t have to think about it.”
Experts think the new 988 hotline service will be widely accepted and used.
Kimberly Williams, President and CEO of Vibrant Emotional Health, said, “A national three-digit number will make it far easier for millions of Americans to reach out for help and get an immediate connection to care when they’re experiencing a mental health or suicidal crisis. Most importantly, 988 will help save lives.”
Vibrant Emotional Health, which was initially known as the Mental Health Association of New York City, is the organization that runs the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Many mental health crisis centers “are struggling to stay afloat,” Gebbia said. Most of those centers get very little federal funding. They have to raise money on their own. Some centers have even closed in recent years. Besides, many calls go unanswered, others are diverted to backup centers.
Gebbia explained, “It’s very hard for someone when they’re struggling to make that call, and to be on hold, not have the call go through, not have the call answered in a timely way, can be devastating. It can be a matter of life and death.”
Williams and Gebbia said the new hotline service will solve this problem because it will be federally funded.
“Under 988, it is anticipated that far more people will be reaching out for help,” Williams said.
Currently, many people end up calling 911 for all emergencies that are handled by the police and hospital emergency departments. “But often,” Williams added, “the person can be helped just by a conversation. We don’t have to dispatch police.”