Millions of Americans dial 911 each year to seek help for mental health and substance use emergencies. However, doing so may unnecessarily land them in the emergency room or the criminal justice system.  

Now, as Anu Raj, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist at New York Institute of Technology’s Center for Behavioral Health, explains, the three-digit 988 number for mental health emergencies will provide these individuals with a much-needed resource. 

“Many times, these people don't pose a threat to others, but due to their reduced mental status, their behavior can be misconstrued as a threat and they can be deemed dangerous,” says Raj.  

The easy-to-remember 988 replaces the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 10-digit phone number and connects those in need with counselors who are specially trained in mental health crises and crisis de-escalation.  

"People who may have struggled with mental health crises in the past will now have access to a resource that will connect them to appropriate care," says Raj. 

However, in order for the initiative to be truly successful, Raj says that individuals will need to be connected to providers for consistent, long-term care once the crisis has been averted.

“Local hotline teams will need to quickly connect and expand their network of local providers, who can provide long-term and consistent care to the individuals, hence reducing the cycle of crisis,” she notes.