About 988: Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

Not sure if 988 is for you? Find out when to use 988 and what to expect when you call.
person looking at phone with 988 logo

Table of Contents

About 988

  • 988 is a direct three-digit phone line to trained National Suicide Prevention Lifeline call takers.
  • 988 can be used anytime, anywhere you or a loved one is in emotional distress or having suicidal thoughts.
  • Trained call takers, who are not licensed clinicians, are available to provide free, confidential emotional support to all callers. You do not need to be suicidal to call 988.
  • With an easy to remember number like 988, the Lifeline hopes to reach many more people in emotional distress and connect those to services if needed.
  • As of July 16, 2022, 988 is available 24/7, 365 days a year.

What to expect when you call 988

  • Calls will be routed to a call center based on a caller’s area code.
  • All calls will be answered by a highly trained staff or volunteer who will provide compassionate, non-judgmental support.
  • Although the number is shorter, it will still connect to the same service which has been available in Massachusetts for many years.

What to expect when you text or chat

Chat is available through the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988lifeline.org.

  • People seeking chat services will complete a pre-chat survey before being connected with a counselor that identifies the main area of concern.
  • If there is a wait to chat with a crisis counselor, a wait-time message will appear. If demand is high, individuals can access the Lifeline’s “helpful resources” while waiting or call 988.
  • Once connected, a crisis counselor will listen to you, work to understand how your problem is affecting you, provide support, and share resources that may be helpful.

Text is available through 988 as of July 16, 2022.

  • When someone texts to 988, they will complete a brief survey before connecting to a group of Lifeline crisis centers that respond to chat and text.
  • Once connected, a crisis counselor will listen to you, work to understand how your problem is affecting you, provide support, and share resources that may be helpful.

988 accessibility and services available for specific groups

  • Those who are deaf or hard of hearing may use the online chat function or TTY users may use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988. More information for people who are deaf, hard of hearing or have hearing loss can be found here.
  • Language translation services are also available to all callers, specifically the Spanish Language Line can be accessed by pressing 2 after dialing. Information on Spanish Language services through 988 can be found here.
  • Service Members, Veterans, and their Families may reach the Veterans Crisis Line by pressing 1 after dialing 988, as well as by chatting online at veteranscrisisline.net or texting 838255.
  • LGBTQ youth may also use the Trevor Lifeline by calling 1-866-488-7386 or texting 678-678 to access information and support for LGBTQ youth.

Frequently asked questions

Why is 988 needed?

Suicide prevention is a critical need. Since 2008, suicide has ranked as the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. The adoption of the new three-digit number reflects a commitment to delivering necessary intervention services. The majority of people calling the Lifeline receive the support they need at the call center level. Switching to an easy-to-remember 988 for suicide and crisis intervention will make it easier for callers to access the emotional support they need and decrease the stigma surrounding suicide.

Who is 988 for?

Anyone. 988 is for anyone in emotional distress or suicidal crisis. It is also for an individual who is worried about a loved one and not sure how to support that person or where to get them help. Lifeline specialists are available to provide free, confidential emotional support to all callers.

Is the 1-800-273-8255 Lifeline number going away?

No. Moving to 988 does not mean the 800 number goes away.

Dialing either number will get people to the same services, no matter which number they use. In the end, 988 is an easier-to-remember way for people to access a strengthened and expanded network of crisis call centers. The same centers who answer the 800 number will answer 988.

How will 988, 911, and the Emergency Services Program interact?

Increased collaboration between 988, 911, and the Emergency Services Program will provide more options for those in crisis, such as dispatching mobile crisis teams to individuals in mental health, substance use, or suicidal crisis rather than police, fire, or EMS. However, when someone is at imminent risk for suicide, meaning that a suicide attempt will occur shortly or is already in progress, 911 will continue to be dispatched, in keeping with current best practices.

How is 988 different from 211?

Mass211 works to connect callers to a large array of health and human service organizations and providers that are convenient to where the callers live. This information and referrals are available 24/7/365 in over 150 languages. Mass211 is also home to one of the local Lifeline call centers. As such, Mass211 call takers are highly trained to respond to callers experiencing loneliness, isolation, desperation, and potentially suicidal ideation and can provide support for people in suicidal crisis or mental health-related distress in the very moments they need it most.

If I call 988, will they find my location and send it to 911 without my consent? 

988 does not contact or share any information with emergency services such as 911, police or fire, unless a person’s life is in danger.

  • Fewer than 2% of calls to 988 in MA require emergency intervention. 

  • In accordance with the imminent risk policy established by the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, 988 call takers do not contact emergency services without a caller’s permission unless a suicide attempt is in progress or likely to happen in a very short period.  

  • Policy and best practices can be viewed here: 988lifeline.org/best-practices.

Who answers the phone when I call 988? 

All calls are answered by a highly trained staff member or volunteer who will provide compassionate, non judgmental support.  

  • The vast majority of 988 callers are served by the helpline directly, through which Massachusetts’ 988 centers work collaboratively with callers to provide compassionate support. 

  • 988 Lifeline specialists provide compassionate, non judgmental listening. They also offer assistance with de-escalation and safety planning to help individuals through the least restrictive means possible.  

When I call 988, where is my call routed to? 

Calls will be routed to a call center based on a caller’s area code.  

  • Calls are routed based on the area code of your landline or cell phone number. For example, if the caller’s phone number has a 617 area code, the call will be routed to the call center nearest to Boston.

Is the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline a brand-new lifeline? 

Although the number is shorter, it will still connect to the same crisis services that have been available in Massachusetts for many years, formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. 

If I don’t feel comfortable talking to someone on the phone, is there text or chat available? 

Yes, chat is available through the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988lifeline.org, or you can text 988. 

What happens when I use the chat feature? 

People seeking chat services will complete a pre-chat survey that identifies the main area of concern before being connected with a counselor.

  • If there is a wait to chat with a crisis counselor, a wait-time message will appear. If demand is high, individuals can access the Lifeline’s “helpful resources” while waiting or call 988.  

  • Once connected, a crisis counselor will listen to you, work to understand how your problem is affecting you, provide support, and share resources that may be helpful.   

What happens when I text 988? 

When someone texts 988, they will complete a brief survey before connecting to a group of Lifeline crisis centers that respond to chat and text.  

  • Once connected, a crisis counselor will listen to you, work to understand how your problem is affecting you, provide support, and share resources that may be helpful.  

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