The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will be launching a new 3-digit number nationwide on July 16. The Lifeline’s network of trained counselors will be reachable at 988 via call, text or chat.

The Lifeline’s current number 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK) will remain available after the 988 number is rolled out, but the shortened dial code aims to make the number more accessible. 

The Lifeline is free, 24/7 and confidential. It is available nationwide for people who are considering suicide, seeking emotional support or seeking information on how to support a friend or loved one. 

Callers are connected with a trained professional at the call center nearest to them so they can be referred to local resources, according to the Lifeline’s website.

“We have 911, that’s something that everybody grows up learning—  it’s almost the first phone number any child learns, that their parents teach them, and I really hope that the 988 is something similar,” Caroline Schmidt from San Luis Obispo County Behavioral Health said.

This shortened number is the result of The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which passed in October 2020. The Federal Communications Commission has required providers to make the 988 number available by the upcoming July rollout date, according to Vibrant Emotional Health’s website. Vibrant Emotional Health administers the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Texting will also be added as a new feature when the 988 number is rolled out. This addition is hoping to better reach at-risk communities, including youth populations and people with disabilities, according to the FCC.

Hotline support is currently part of the San Luis Obispo County Suicide Prevention Strategic Plan. This support includes the national hotline and the Central Coast Hotline, which is operated by Transitions-Mental Health Association.

Schmidt said that hotlines are important because they empower people to reach out for help and help the responding professionals identify signs of suicidal ideation earlier.

“They can get resources and we can improve our support and, hopefully, meet them where they’re at,” Schmidt said. “It doesn’t become something where we’re reacting to suicidal ideations — we’re helping them cope before those happen.”

Schmidt said that the utilization of call centers has increased since the pandemic began, as more people are struggling with their mental health.

“I think that this is just a great opportunity to connect people to even more resources and to give them guidance and answers for themselves, but then also for others,” Schmidt said.

The Lifeline has been in operation since 2005 and has taken more than 20 million calls between 2005 and 2020, according to its website.

The California Department of Health Care Services has invested $20 million to support the rollout of the 988 number in California. There are 13 crisis call centers in the state that take calls for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, according to a state news release.

If you or anyone you know is seeking support, you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Central Coast Hotline at 800-783-0607.