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988 is the New Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

Health, Safety, and Well-being Health, Safety, and Well-being Initiatives
July 26, 2022 David Arnold NASPA

Exacerbated by the global pandemic, college and university professionals continue to cite mental health as a driving concern for students and our colleagues. This concern is mirrored in communities across the United States, leading to a Congressional designation of 988 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The 988 number is now active.

The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, funded by SAMHSA, is a national network of over 200 local, independent crisis centers equipped to help people in mental health-related distress or experiencing suicidal crisis. The 988 Lifeline provides free and confidential support via call, chat, or text 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is a universal entry point, so no matter where someone is within the United States, a trained crisis counselor can help.

While colleges and universities sometimes maintain separate, specialized crisis response services, many campuses have supplemented services by including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in course syllabi, posted it as part of educational resources, or added it to student identification cards. While the original number (1-800-273-8255) will continue to direct people to the same services, the new number is designed to be easier to remember and to communicate to anyone experiencing a crisis. SAMHSA understands the importance of providing consistent messaging when it comes to the rollout of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. You can access the communication outreach materials and resources here: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/988/partner-toolkit.

In addition to being a resource for communities, the rollout also represents an opportunity for students as volunteers, employees, and interns to serve as crisis counselors answering phone, chats, and texts. SAMHSA maintains a list of the 200 centers that are participating in the 988 network for any campus that wants to share these opportunities with students: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/988/jobs. There is a particular effort to recruit additional help in high-need states.

Crisis response resources are only one part of designing healthier and safer campus communities. In January, the 2023 NASPA Mental Health Conference, part of the NASPA Strategies Conferences, will host presentations from student affairs professionals on the clinical and nonclinical successes and outstanding challenges that will continue to inform practice. Through strategically implemented policies, culture change towards thriving and student strengths, multi-faceted program design which meets students where they are at, and robust support for student affairs professionals who operate interventions to help students, we know that meaningful change to impact student mental health continues to evolve and thrive.