This paper explains the rationale and offers recommendations for the establishment of a network based on the federal authorization for states and communities to establish a network for the universal phone number 988 to respond to requests for help in behavioral health crises.
In 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the U.S. Congress established a universal phone number (988) that can be used to request help in behavioral health crises and suicide prevention. This action intends to enable states and local communities to improve how they respond to people experiencing behavioral health crises and redefine the role of law enforcement and 911 calls. The current paper highlights important facts about this new dedicated crisis line and provides tips to help communities prepare for the national launch of this new universal helpline in 2022. The 988 line will launch nationwide in July 2022 and will directly route callers to local call centers within the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network. Calls will be answered by trained crisis operators prepared to assess and de-escalate crises over the phone, connect callers to additional services, and dispatch a mobile crisis team where available. The provision of mobile crisis teams will be dependent on a community’s establishment, training, and funding of such teams. Collaboration with local law enforcement agencies will be essential for implementing a 988 system. The effective implementation of the 988 network will require states and local communities to cooperate in its development and implementation. Four recommendations are offered on how to prepare for a successful 988 implementation.