suicide prevention lifeline sign near subway train

The new national 988 suicide prevention hotline, which uses the infrastructure of the current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800 number, goes into effect in July.

Legislatures Prepare for New National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

By Charlie Severance-Medaris | Oct. 12, 2021 | State Legislatures News | Print

National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month has ended, and World Mental Health Day has come and gone. But the issues of suicide and mental health never go away, and a new crisis hotline has many legislators considering the impact it might have on their communities.

Congress enacted the National Suicide Designation Act in 2020, establishing a nationwide, three-digit suicide and mental health crisis call line. The new 988 lifeline will take advantage of the existing infrastructure of the current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number (1-800-273-8255) and go into effect in July.

In preparation for the new number, 17 states introduced 26 bills in the 2021 legislative session, and 14 states enacted legislation. Nebraska created a task force to develop an implementation plan for the state to integrate and utilize the 988 lifeline. Utah created a Statewide Behavioral Health Crisis Response Account charged with distributing money appropriated from the state’s general fund to supporting crisis response programs associated with the 988 service.

Virginia directed its health department to develop crisis call centers, community care teams and mobile crisis teams, and created a $0.12 surcharge on postpaid wireless charges to support these programs. Colorado authorized the Department of Health and Human Services to fund a nonprofit organization to operate call centers serving the 988 lifeline in the state and provide intervention services and crisis care coordination to individuals calling the 988 number.

Transition Time

The 988 program provides for a two-year transition to allow for widespread network changes and provide time for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to prepare for the expected increase in the volume of calls. The shorter number is intended to be easier to remember and more accessible to people considering suicide or experiencing a mental health crisis. The Federal Communications Commission is also currently accepting public comment on plans to allow text-based communication with the lifeline.

Calls from all 50 states to the new 988 number and existing 800 number will be routed to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline as of July 16, 2022, without any additional action needed from state legislatures. The federal legislation, however, gives states the flexibility to invest in different programs to support call centers and the professionals who respond to mental health crisis calls.

Under the status quo, calls made to the lifeline will be answered by the nearest available call center. If there is no call center available in the caller’s state, the call will bounce to an adjacent state’s call center or eventually to the national response center in New York City. States have the option, but are not required by the federal legislation, to establish a telecommunications surcharge fee like the one they collect to fund 911 service, to support these call centers and other response programs.

Charlie Severance-Medaris is a policy specialist in NCSL’s Health Program.

If you are considering suicide or if you are concerned that someone you care about may be considering suicide, call the toll-free national suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

This project is supported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $313,000 with 100% funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, CDC/HHS or the U.S. government.

Additional Resources