Answering the Call


Photo by Norah Tahiri

About the Series

In October 2020, Congress decided to convert the 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline into an easy-to-remember 3-digit hotline — 988. Mental health advocates see the launch of this new number as a rare opportunity to connect millions more people in crisis with faster, safer and easier access to help during the moments they need it most.

But creating a new phone number is not as simple as flipping a switch, especially when people experiencing serious mental health crises are at one end of the line. 

With the line set to go live on July 16, 2022, our special series “Answering the Call,” explores the challenges and opportunities behind launching a brand new mental health crisis line.

In addition to our podcast episodes below, Dan Gorenstein was interviewed for The Takeaway on the launch of 988, and you can find digital versions of the first episode, second episode and third episode on Slate’s “State of Mind.” 

In Part 1, we explore the many problems policymakers are hoping 988 will help address through the story of a West Virginia woman struggling with drug addiction and suicidal thoughts.

This episode also provides an overview of some of the key questions surrounding 988: Who will answer the calls? Where will callers in crisis go? How will it all be funded?

In Part 2, we focus on one of the largest challenges facing 988: finding enough people to answer the up to 12 million calls, chats and texts that could come into the line in its first year. Centers are scrambling to find more workers, and they know that to fulfill 988’s promise, this workforce must be well-paid, well-trained and well-supported.

In this episode, we visit three 988 call centers to under how they’re trying to quickly build a large and resilient workforce, and we examine the lessons the new line can learn from its cousin, 911.

In Part 3, we hear from three reporters with our partner Side Effects Public Media about people on the ground trying to tackle some of 988’s biggest questions: Are crisis call centers prepared for the launch? Are there enough call-takers to field the volume of 988 calls? What will the response to the calls be?

It’s been one year since 988 — the country’s new mental health crisis line — went live with hopes of transforming crisis services in America. In Part 4, we check in on what’s working, what’s not, and what’s next for 988.

This series on 988 is supported, in part, by the Sozosei Foundation.

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