9-8-8: a new lifeline for mental health care

  • Published
  • By Kristian DePue, Staff Writer, Space Base Delta 1 Public Affairs
  • Space Delta 1 Public Affairs

In 2020, Congress designated a new 988 dialing code to operate through the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s network, paring down a 10-digit number (800-273-8255) to simply three, similar to the emergency dialing code, 911.

The U.S. will make the transition, implementing 988, on July 16, 2022.

“Two years ago, it was congressionally decided that we needed something to standardize mental health services the way we standardize emergency response services, a simple, universal way for every person to contact really amazing resources networked across the country,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jessica Ditson, Space Base Delta 1 violence prevention integrator.

Despite this being a congressional decision on a nation-wide scale, the three-digit mental health dial will connect callers with assistance on a local level. 988 is an entry point to reach a trained crisis counselor no matter where you live.

“When you call 988, you're going to be connected to people in your own community, people who can help you,” said Ditson.

The 988 dialing code is a step forward in transforming mental health care in the country. Moving from an 800-number to an easy-to-remember dial removes a major obstacle between someone in distress and the care they need.

“That's the big part: it's something more readily available,” said Ditson. “I don't remember life before 911. 911 was always the thing I was taught as a child for when you need help. It was internalized and normalized, like ‘stop, drop and roll.’ I'm hoping that this starts to normalize for a whole other generation.”

Ultimately, 988 is a connection to compassionate care and accessible support for anyone experiencing mental health-related distress, whether it’s thoughts of suicide, substance abuse or any other kind of mental or emotional distress. Additionally, people can dial 988 if they are worried about a friend, family member or loved one who may need support.

“You don't necessarily need to be actively suicidal,” said Ditson. “You can be depressed; you can be experiencing panic or anxiety or any number of life experiences where you want the support of someone outside of the situation who can give feedback, guidance or connect you with a local resource in your area. We have some amazing resources here in Colorado.”

The 988 mental health care dialing code will go live on July 16, 2022.