Fifty years ago, people had to remember the different local seven–digit phone numbers to reach their police, fire, or medical services. Accidental (and preventable) deaths and injuries had become an epidemic. Enter 911, the standardized national number for emergency services. Fast forward fifty years, and 988 hopes to be the 911 of mental health emergencies: the number to call for the suicide hotline as well as during behavioral crises which don’t require police intervention.
In July of 2022, the federal government launched the three–digit 988 number as an easy–to–remember alternative to the 10–digit National Suicide Prevention Hotline (which is still in service). Its implementation is left up to the states.
“I think the promise of 988 is great, we just need to follow through. The story of mental health care is really good intentions and no follow up,” says Molly Candon, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Healthcare Management at Penn. In Philadelphia, the matter of follow through has been a concern of life or death.