The three-digit number 988 was originally created by Congress in 2020 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. On July 16, 2022, the short-code number went live nationwide becoming equally important as 911 and is now known as 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. The original 10-digit phone number 1-800-273-8255 will still remain available to call. The 988 number is intended to create an easier, more accessible way to provide greater preventative services if there happens to be a crisis.
The number is not only something to memorize, but is one that ultimately could save a life. We sat down with Dr. Eric Burger in an interview detailing his unique path that led him to playing a large role in this number’s creation.
“988…a crisis care system that provides direct, life-saving services to all in need.” – SAMHSA
How Did The 988 Hotline Come To Be?
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that in 2020, the U.S. had one death by suicide every 11 minutes. Suicide is a leading cause of death for people aged 10-34 years. Creating a short-code number like 988 was the first step to improving how America deals with its crisis care system.
Dr. Eric Burger has a wide and impressive technological background. He is currently a Research Professor of NextG Security at Virginia Tech. As a former Chief Technology Officer of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Dr. Eric Burger was hired to help combat robocalling. Thankfully, he accomplished much more and was directly involved in the process of bringing the 988 initiative to life. During his time with the FCC, a piece of legislation mandated they implement the short-code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. To repurpose the 10-digit number meant rerouting callers and causing delay. In the case of saving lives, minutes matter. Creating a shorter number, that could be learned and remembered, and direct callers to a person meant more immediate care.
Psychologists, sociologists, and the University of Florida found that 988 was the most memorable and easy-to-dial number. The majority of Burger’s involvement was researching how this 988 number could indeed be implemented across the board.
Being a part of something that can help save lives is one of Burger’s greatest sentiments. He claimed this success as “top of my list of things done while I was at the FCC.”
How Does The 988 Lifeline Help Those Who Call It?
The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a national network of over 200 local, independent, and state-funded crisis centers equipped to help people in emotional distress or experiencing a suicidal crisis.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) The goal of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is to provide immediate crisis intervention and support. When someone calls 988, a trained crisis counselor will answer the phone, listen to the caller, understand how their problem is affecting them, provide support and share resources, as needed.
Studies have shown that after speaking with a trained crisis counselor, most 988 Lifeline callers are significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful. Over the first month of the transition to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (988 Lifeline) there has been a 45% increase in overall volume, and a substantial improvement in answer rates and wait times compared to August 2021 (SAMHSA).
How can you help? Be sure to pass the word on. Visit online resources to learn more and download information that can be shared privately or on social media. Participate in National Suicide Prevention Week, which happens every September. Listen and take preventative action to help those who may be in need.
Remember, if you or someone you know is struggling with suicide or in a crisis, call or text 988 or chat online at 988lifeline.org – support is there for you.