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The National Suicide Prevention Hotline has a new number. It’s a lot shorter too. As of Saturday, July 16, anyone in need can call 988. The three-digit number still goes to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, and the Veterans Crisis Line. Any veteran or current member of the military can dial 988 and then press 1 for the specialized service. 

The new 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline number was developed as a sort of mental health 911 alternative. Often times when 911 is called, police, not healthcare workers are dispatched, and law enforcement is more often than not untrained in dealing with mental health issues.

The shift to the number is also expected to expand service for people who know about the lifeline, not just because the new number is not just shorter, but also easier to remember even in times of crisis. The shift to a new number was developed by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The bodies expect the ease of dialing the hotline will lead to more callers and more lives saved as a result. The number change was initially approved in 2020 but went into effect this weekend. Veterans who used the prior 10-digit number for the Veterans Crisis Line can still reach assistance with the old number. Chat and outreach is also available online as well, and people can continue to text the line at 838255. 

“988 is more than a number, it is a message: we’re there for you. Through this and other actions, we are treating mental health as a priority and putting crisis care in reach for more Americans,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

The Veterans Crisis Line was launched in 2007, open to veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs even if they weren’t enrolled for VA benefits. Callers are linked to trained counselors who can listen and, if needed, connect people to additional suicide prevention resources and in certain cases dispatch emergency services. Funding for the overall Suicide & Crisis Lifeline has increased in the last few years, to expand the number of counselors available to take calls and to add to the number of Spanish speaking counselors.

Mental health for active-duty military and veterans has been an ongoing issue and remains more important than ever, especially as care for those current and former service members remains spotty. The VA itself has been ridden with scandals for years, including cases of mismanagement and even an employee attacking a Vietnam veteran. The hotline has also had its own share of criticism for deficiencies and inaction. Within the armed forces, morale is low and poor conditions have proven a challenge for recruiters trying to meet enlistment goals. The Navy has been dealing with its own issues of desertion and suicide. 

More information on the line, and additional resources are available at www.veteranscrisisline.net.

If you are struggling and thinking about suicide, or are concerned about a friend, the lifeline is available 24/7 and can be reached by dialing 988. Press 1 to go to the Veterans Crisis Line.

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