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988: The New Suicide & Crisis Hotline

By Theresa Covell, Assistant Public Health Nurse

“Who is 988 for? 988 is for ANYONE in emotional distress or suicidal crisis. It is for an individual who is worried about a loved one and not sure how to support that person or where to get them help”

Last week, a popular dancer and TV personality named Stephen Boss, best known to his fans as tWitch, reportedly committed suicide in a Los Angeles hotel. Outwardly, he had a successful and promising career, in addition to a loving wife and three beautiful children. He was funny, charismatic, charming, and full of life and energy. When news of his suicide broke, his fans and the entertainment community were stunned. Sadly, this type of scenario is all too familiar, in the news and close to home…for all of us.

Remember these three numbers: 9-8-8. Encourage your family members and friends to remember them too. This new three-digit dialing code for call or text, active across the United States as of July 2022, routes callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which has been in operation since 2005. It’s now called the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. The previous Lifeline phone number—(800) 273-8255—is still active and will remain available to people in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, but simply dialing 9-8-8 connects callers to the same trained counselors who will listen, understand, provide support, and connect them to resources if necessary.

While calling a crisis line can be intimidating to some, counselors who answer incoming 988 calls work hard to make the experience as easy and as comfortable as possible. Numerous studies have shown that callers feel less suicidal, depressed, and overwhelmed after speaking with a crisis counselor.

On Cape Cod, all calls to 988 are routed to the Samaritans: a local, non-profit, non-secular group that is part of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network. The group was founded in 1977 and its mission is to combat suicide by fostering caring, connection, resilience, and public understanding.

All calls to 988 are confidential. However, when necessary (and as a last resort), a counselor may initiate an active rescue on the caller’s behalf. This intervention only occurs when the counselor feels a caller may inflict life-threatening injury to themselves or others.

–The previous Lifeline phone number, (800) 273-8255 will remain active.

988 is a number to call or text when:

  • You or a loved one are in suicidal or substance abuse crisis.
  • You are overwhelmed, sad, lonely, angry, confused, or in need of a “safe space” to talk when it seems like there’s nowhere to turn. You do not need to be suicidal to use 988. 
  • You’ve stopped doing things you usually love; you’re tearful, not eating or sleeping properly, drifting from people close to you, taking alcohol or drugs to cope or self-harming.
  • You are worried about a loved one or friend and are not sure how to support them.

All callers can access crisis counselors through 9-8-8 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Interpreter services are available through 9-8-8. Those who are deaf or hard of hearing may use the online chat function at Lifeline Chat and Text: Lifeline ( Teletypewriter (TTY) users may use their preferred relay service or dial 711 followed by 988.

What about 911?

Enhanced collaboration between 911 and 988 provides more options for people in crisis. Mobile crisis teams staffed by behavioral health specialists may be dispatched to aid individuals in mental health, substance use or suicidal crisis. These teams can de-escalate crisis situations and connect a person to crisis stabilization programs or other services. They collaborate closely with law enforcement in high-risk situations. If a suicide attempt will occur shortly or is already in progress, 911 will be dispatched.

Get involved here on Cape Cod!

The Samaritans offer several services and programs including the opportunity to train to become a crisis line volunteer or paid employee. Email for more information.

Local Services/Resources on Cape Cod

To learn more about suicide prevention, mental health education and grief support programs on the Cape & Islands, please visit