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988 Crisis Line: 1 Million Veterans, Service Members Called in a Year

Image of 988 Crisis Line: 1 Million Veterans, Service Members Called in a Year. A sign for the Military and Veterans Crisis Line reading “Dial 988 then Press 1” at the entrance to the Nebraska National Guard air base in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Sept. 9, 2022. If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, you are not alone and someone is always available to listen. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Lisa Crawford).

[Editor’s note: This article deals with suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call the 988 National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline and press “1”, or text 838255, or chat for the dedicated Veterans Crisis Line and Military Crisis Line. For Spanish, press “2”.]

It’s been a little more than a year since the 988 National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline phone number, texts, and chats have been active, and more than 5.5 million people have contacted the new, confidential, 24/7 service in times of crisis.

Nearly one-quarter, or 1 million, contacts have been made to 988’s dedicated Veterans Crisis Line and Military Crisis Line.

“The 988 Lifeline is an important and critical resource for service members and their families who may be experiencing mental health-related distress, such as thoughts of suicide, to connect for immediate crisis intervention and confidential support,” said Dr. Liz Clark, director of the Department of Defense Suicide Prevention Office.

“The lifeline is staffed with trained crisis counselors who actively listen and collaborate with callers, and provide support and resources as needed. Every life is worth living, and we actively encourage our military community to reach out for care, support, and help,” Clark said.

Data from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMSHA, discussed in a recent podcast on “Navigating Crisis with 988,” show 80% of the time, or more, a suicidal crisis can be helped by using 988.

Getting the Word Out

The 988 Lifeline went live in July 2022 after a six-year effort to create a national three-digit number akin to 911, and all involved continue to publicize it to lessen the stigma of seeking help at a time of mental health crisis.

Maria Mouratidis, a clinical psychologist and deputy chief of the DHA’s Psychological Health Center of Excellence, said what is needed to get people to use resources such as 988, is to “normalize seeking help and having conversations about mental health and suicide, while increasing psychological health literacy and education about treatment,” as well as “providing education about and access to mental health resources.”

“By reducing the stigma of seeking help for mental health issues and education, people in crisis may seek help at the earliest signs of stress or symptoms,” she suggested.

Mouratidis said awareness and empathy are important. Be aware of those around you “who may be feeling ostracized, marginalized, or isolated. Engage them. Convey that there is hope.”

For military families, sharing the message and resources of the Real Warriors Campaign is key, Mouratidis emphasized. The campaign’s partnership between PHCoE and DSPO is adding more emphasis on suicide prevention and reducing stigma in line with Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III’s goal to eliminate suicide in the military.

According to SAMSHA, it’s OK to talk about suicide with someone at risk. SAMHSA recommends people ask whether somebody is having thoughts about suicide and then actively listen and try to problem solve. Emergency medical intervention is not always needed at the time, so people at risk of suicide should be asked if they know where to get help, know about 988, and possibly be assisted in being linked to mental health and other resources, such as housing and food.

Dedicated Veterans/Military Crisis Line

This line serves veterans, active duty service members, National Guard and Reserve members, and those who support them.

After dialing 988, press “1” to be connected directly to the Veterans Crisis Line. You can also text 838255 or go to the chat app. You don’t need to be enrolled in Department of Veterans Affairs benefits, receiving care at a military hospital or clinic, or a military health care plan to connect.

You can also reach 988 from the Defense Health Agency’s Psychological Center of Excellence website.

The contact is then routed directly to one of the VA’s crisis counseling centers that are trained in military culture and can better understand where veterans and military personnel are coming from and can connect them with appropriate resources.

There's no charge, and you decide how much information to share. In addition, you don’t have to press “1” if you prefer to talk to one of the Lifeline’s 200 call centers.

Spanish-speaking 988 callers can press “2” for Spanish-language services.

For those who are hearing impaired, click the "ASL Now" button on the website and follow the prompts.

Veterans also can take a free, 10-minute self-check through a VA-affiliated website to assess their stress or depression levels to help a 988 counselor better understand their needs.

If you are stationed or living overseas and need help, a veteran or other military member can contact the Veterans Crisis Line via chat online from anywhere with an internet connection and get a phone call back at no charge.

If you want to call the line directly from overseas, there are toll-free numbers available both commercial and through DSN. For the most current listing of the numbers from overseas, visit the Veterans Crisis Line Calling from Overseas page.

Resources

For anyone experiencing a mental health crisis, needing immediate assistance, or simply wanting to talk, confidential help is available 24/7.

Military OneSource is a 24/7 gateway to trusted information for service members and families that provides resources and confidential help. Call 800-342-9667.

The Psychological Health Resource Center is available 24/7 for service members, veterans, and family members with questions about psychological health topics. Trained mental health consultants can help you access mental health care and community support resources in your local area. Call 1-866-966-1020, start a live chat, or visit www.health.mil/PHRC.

The inTransition program has 20 FAQs that are a helpful introduction to the program. You can call 800-424-7877, or at 800-748-81111 in Australia, Germany, Italy, Japan, and South Korea only. You can also email the program directly at: dha.ncr.j-9.mbx.inTransition@health.mil.

The Military Health System, DOD, and VA have many other mental health resources available to any service member, families, or veteran beneficiaries who are struggling with mental health challenges. Read Mental Health is Health Care for a complete list of resources for immediate assistance or to make appointments.

To set up a mental health appointment through TRICARE, visit: www.tricare.mil/MentalHealth.

Other critical areas of public outreach are available across the armed services, DSPO said. These include:

  • Educating and training service members to see signs and reduce suicide risks through the:
  • Increasing service members’ knowledge and comfort for reaching out to help resources via the DSPO Resources Exist, Asking Can Help program, or REACH
  • Encouraging supportive language through DSPO’s Your Words Matter campaign, which calls for the end of stigmatizing or negative language when addressing mental health
  • Sharing resources to support service members and their families through the Healthy Relationship program, a free, educational consultation designed to strengthen relationships through a series of personalized coaching sessions tailored to help set goals and strengthen communication skills
  • Collaborating with the DOD Educational Agency to support school-age children in talking about their feelings via the Acknowledge, Care, Tell program

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Last Updated: November 14, 2023
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