(Washington, DC) – Today, Mayor Muriel Bowser and Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) Director Dr. Barbara J. Bazron, Ph.D. announced that Washington, DC will join jurisdictions nationwide in launching the three-digit 988 suicide prevention or crisis services lifeline on July 16, 2022. Beginning July 16, anyone experiencing a mental health, substance use, or suicidal crisis will be able to dial 988 and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will connect individuals to locally operated crisis centers. In calling 988, individuals will be connected to compassionate and accessible care and support. Family and friends can also call 988 if they are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support.
“We are very focused on how we connect more residents to mental health care, and that is especially critical for people who are in crisis. Just like people know 911, now we also want people to know and use the 988 lifeline,” said Mayor Bowser. “In calling 988, people can get connected to trained crisis counselors and lifesaving services – any time, day or night.”
The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline will:
Connect people experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis to a trained crisis counselor who can address their immediate needs and connect them to ongoing care if needed.
Build on the District’s initiative to divert certain 911 mental health-related crisis calls to mental health specialists and decrease an automatic law enforcement response.
Help end stigma around mental illness and normalize seeking or accessing mental health care. The 988 Lifeline supports a mental health crisis as a health crisis with a clinical response so all residents feel comfortable reaching out for help.
“For individuals in crisis, particularly those who are thinking about suicide, having someone to call who will listen and provide support can make a difference and save lives,” said Barbara J. Bazron, Ph.D., DBH Director. “The pandemic has affected the mental health of all of us in some way and the 988 Lifeline will give people timely access to treatment and support.”
The launch of the 988 Lifeline is another milestone in the Bowser Administration’s multi-year expansion of crisis services in the District. In 2019, Mayor Bowser established the DBH Community Response Team to strengthen mobile crisis response and pre-arrest diversion programs. In 2021, at the Mayor’s direction, the District launched a 911 diversion initiative to provide a clinical response to certain mental health-related crisis calls to 911 rather than an automatic law enforcement response. Hundreds of calls have been diverted safely from 911 to DBH.
Additionally, DBH will continue to operate the 24-hour Mental Health Hotline, which can be reached by calling 1-888-793-4357, for anyone who is feeling anxious or depressed or wants to talk about their mental health before it gets to a crisis.
In Fiscal Year 2022, Mayor Bowser invested $5.1 million to add 14 new staff to the Access Helpline/Mental Health Hotline call center and 27 new members to the Community Response Team. The District also received a $383,000 federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to aid in the rollout of the 988 Lifeline.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is funded by SAMHSA and has been administered by Vibrant Emotional Health since it began in 2005. The Lifeline is a national network of over 200 local, independent crisis centers equipped to help people in mental health-related distress or experiencing a suicidal crisis via call, chat, or text. The Lifeline provides free and confidential support to people in suicidal crisis or mental health-related distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, across the U.S. With the transition to 988, these lifesaving services will be even easier to reach. Numerous studies have shown that the Lifeline works—most callers are significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful after speaking to a Lifeline crisis counselor.
In 2020, Congress designated the new 988 dialing code to operate through the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s (1-800-273-8255) network of more than 200 locally operated and funded crisis centers across the country. All phone service providers are required to transition to 988 as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by July 16, 2022. DBH has been working with an advisory committee to plan for the implementation of 988 in DC. The advisory committee includes individuals with lived experience, advocates, law enforcement, community-based behavioral health providers and consumer-led groups.