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The 911 for Mental Health Is Almost Here — Ready or Not

The new emergency number 988 will launch across the US next month. Not everyone is prepared.

Texting can be a lifeline.

Texting can be a lifeline.

Photographer: Kimihiro Hoshino/AFP/Getty Images

A 2020 law creating a national mental-health hotline, 988, was hailed as a milestone in making crisis services more accessible and de-stigmatizing seeking help. But with less than one month ahead of its launch on July 16, state and local agencies seem unprepared for its rollout, according to a recent report from research group the Rand Corporation.

Designed to be accessible through phone, text messages and web chat, the new emergency number will connect to the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which links to some 200 local crisis centers. When that hotline debuted in 2005, it fielded 50,000 calls; in 2020, it took 2.4 million.