A new 988 telephone number for the national suicide prevention and mental health hotline will go live on Saturday.

After two years of preparation, hiring and training, the number will be available on all devices starting July 16. Just like everyone knows to dial 911 when their house is on fire, officials hope people will call 988 when they or a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis.

How it started: Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, and Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., introduced the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act in 2020. The bill passed the House and Senate and was signed into law by President Donald Trump in October 2020.

  • “This is a historic opportunity to ensure the growing number of people in crisis can get the help they need. This new option will save thousands of lives and steer thousands of people into more appropriate treatment,” Stewart said.
  • “We set out to create a three-digit mental health hotline because every American needs to know it is OK to reach out for help, and we need to know how to get that help if we are in need,” Moulton said.
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How it works: All telecommunications carriers must provide access to 988 by July 16. The number will direct calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a switchboard that provides free crisis counseling and emotional support. It also connects people to one of more than 180 crisis centers nationwide. It will serve as a universal entry point so that anyone can reach a trained crisis counselor who can provide care no matter where you live.

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Why a new number? Suicide is the 12th-leading causing of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2020, 45,979 American died by suicide, just over half used a firearm. There were an estimated 1.2 million suicide attempts on the U.S. in 2020.

  • The overall suicide rate increased 30% between 2000 and 2020, according to the CDC.
  • In 2020, the suicide rates were higher among adults ages 25 to 34 (18.35 per 100,000) and 75 to 84 (18.43 per 100,000), with the rate highest among adults ages 85 years or older (20.86 per 100,000).
  • Younger groups have had consistently lower suicide rates than middle-age and older adults. In 2020, adolescents and young adults ages 15 to 24 had a suicide rate of 14.24.
  • Still, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among American teenagers and the leading cause of death in Utah.
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“There will be challenges as we get 988 off the ground, but the bottom line is that it will save lives on day one,” Moulton said.

Stewart said the work on suicide prevention is far from over.

“Suicide is a tragic issue that hits home for everyone,” he said. “I look forward to that continued work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and I will never stop fighting to improve the mental health of our nation.”

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