In late October 2022, we received reader mail that asked about a Facebook post that was being copied, pasted, and shared that claimed, "988 is a new system that recently went live to help people reach help in a mental health crisis."
It's true that 988 is a real U.S. phone number that people can either can either call or text if they're dealing with mental health crises and/or thoughts of suicide. As of the time we published this story, it was also true that the number was relatively new.
The full copy-and-paste posts, which we call copypasta, read as follows:
988 is a new system that recently went live to help people reach help in a mental health crisis.
May I please get 2 friends or family members to copy and re-post?
I am trying to demonstrate that someone is always listening.
#SuicideAwareness call 988.
Just two. Any two.
We found no shortage of people copying and pasting this helpful information verbatim on Facebook:
The United States’ first nationwide three-digit mental health crisis hotline goes live on Saturday. It’s designed to be as easy to remember and use as 911, but instead of a dispatcher sending police, firefighters or paramedics, 988 will connect callers with trained mental health counselors.
The federal government has provided over $280 million to help states create systems that will do much more, including mobile mental health crisis teams that can be sent to people’s homes and emergency mental health centers, similar to urgent care clinics that treat physical aches and pains.
“This is one of the most exciting things that has happened” in mental health care, said Dr. Brian Hepburn, a psychiatrist who heads the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors.
Hepburn cautions that when 988 kicks off, it will not be like “the flick of a switch. It’s going to take a number of years in order for us to be able to reach everybody across the country.”
Over the years, we've often found that Facebook copypasta posts contained misleading information. However, in this case, the posts were completely accurate.
According to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline website, in addition to the 988 number, "the previous 1-800-273-TALK (8255) number will continue to function indefinitely."