For the past year, Philadelphia has been trying to get the word out to residents about 988, an easy-to-dial number for suicide and mental health crisis services, but many city teens still say they’ve never heard of it.
The line rolled out nationally in July of 2022, after being announced by federal officials in Philadelphia. The West Philly death of Walter Wallace Jr., who died in 2020 after being shot by police during a mental health crisis, brought a lot of attention to the topic, sparking protests across the city.
There has been a rising need for mental health resources across the country since the pandemic as people have struggled with the social, emotional and financial fallout. The need is particularly acute among youth — emergency room visits related to mental health increased by 31% for people aged 12-17 nationwide from 2019 to 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The 988 line, designed as an easy-to-remember alternative to 911 for mental health crises, is supposed to help anyone access local crisis resources and non-police help during an emergency.
But of about two dozen Philadelphia youth informally surveyed recently, about two-thirds had never heard of the crisis hotline. Almost all said 988 would be beneficial.