Fact Check

Yes, 988 Is a Real US Number for Mental Health Crises and Suicidal Thoughts

Facebook users copied and pasted posts that mentioned 988, which truly is the first nationwide three-digit mental health crisis hotline in the U.S.

Published Oct 24, 2022

A bookmark for children with the 988 suicide and crisis lifeline emergency telephone number is displayed by Lance Neiberger, a volunteer with the Natrona County Suicide Prevention Task Force, while they speak about mental health and suicide awareness in Casper, Wyoming on August 14, 2022. - Sixteen years ago, after his son died by suicide, Lance Neiberger thought of taking his own life. 
Instead, the petroleum engineer -- who lives in central Wyoming -- is spearheading the difficult battle to curb the western US state's suicide rate, the highest in the nation. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images) (PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)
Image Via PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images
Claim:
Facebook posts correctly state that "988 is a new system that recently went live to help people reach help in a mental health crisis."

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.

Say Done.

We found no shortage of people copying and pasting this helpful information verbatim on Facebook:

We previously reported in July 2020 that the 988 number was in the works. One year later, The Associated Press published that the new system was going live. It launched on July 16, 2021:

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."

Sources:

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. https://988lifeline.org/.

Alonso-Zaldivar, Ricardo. “988 Suicide Phone Hotline Getting $282M to Ease July Launch.” The Associated Press, 20 Dec. 2021, https://apnews.com/article/coronavirus-pandemic-lifestyle-health-business-mental-health-90a9d04a8c027a3abbd231d234ed0adf.

Huberman, Bond, and David Emery. “Snopestionary: What Is Copypasta?” Snopes.com, 19 Sept. 2021, https://www.snopes.com/articles/369246/what-is-copypasta/.

Lee, Jessica. “Feds To Launch 3-Digit Suicide Prevention Phone Number.” Snopes.com, 17 July 2020, https://www.snopes.com/news/2020/07/17/suicide-hotline/.

Tanner, Lindsey. “New 988 Hotline Is the 911 for Mental Health Emergencies.” The Associated Press, 15 July 2022, https://apnews.com/article/mental-health-hotline-988-ac50f02b74b8b89be5592be3f3605ff5.

Jordan Liles is a Snopes reporter with expertise in investigating misinformation, inauthentic social media activity, and scams.

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