By July 2022, a new, nationwide 3-digit code to access crisis services - 988 - will go live to support people experiencing a behavioral health crisis. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) order designating 988 to replace the current Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number for this purpose identifies rapid access to suicide prevention and mental health support services as key goals.

An opportunity for much-needed change

Implementation of 988 offers an opportunity to build and support a comprehensive system of crisis services and support across the lifespan.

If implemented effectively – and in conjunction with other community-based solutions and investments – 988 operators could dispatch support such as mobile crisis intervention teams of behavioral health professionals and peer support. These approaches minimize the need for police response and reduce risks associated with police interventions and potential arrests.

Importantly, a robust crisis services system also could provide real-time appointment scheduling, healthcare navigation, and social services navigation, reducing Emergency Department visits and hospitalizations.

The federal law allows for revenue generated by a levy to be used to fund local crisis centers and supporting the development and implementation of wraparound crisis care services. A robust implementation of the 988 system will reduce emergency room boarding and divert individuals from police involvement and potential subsequent arrest.

Our current emergency response system, 911, works well for health emergencies, fires, and criminal activity. But behavioral health emergencies are not well-handled by an ambulance, a fire truck, or a police officer. The addition of 988 is one important step in creating an effective behavioral health emergency response system.

988 and Massachusetts

The FCC mandate applies to the country as a whole, but will require action by individual states to be a success. In the Commonwealth, “An Act to better coordinate suicide prevention services, behavioral health crisis care and emergency services through 988 implementation (H.2081/S.1274)” would create a behavioral health emergency response infrastructure using the new 988 emergency number. The bill prioritizes responses provided in community-based settings (rather than in hospitals), and responses provided by behavioral health providers (rather than by law enforcement).

With passage of the bill, Massachusetts would be prepared to implement 988 by the time the federal government sets aside the number in July 2022. Find out more about what this new 988 bill in Massachusetts would achieve and why it matters. A robust implementation of the 988 system will reduce emergency room boarding and divert individuals from police and potential subsequent arrest.

Key resources

988 Fact Sheet (MAMH): The basics on 988 in Massachusetts.

Crisis Now: Provides communities a roadmap to safe, effective crisis care that diverts people in distress from the emergency department and jail by developing a continuum of crisis care services that match people’s clinical needs.

"What is 988 and why should YOU care:" Guest blogger Monica Luke, Executive Director for The Living Assistance Fund, explains the importance of 988: a 24/7 line that will reimagine behavioral health crises response.

"A Once in a Lifetime Moment to Reimagine Crisis:" Guest blogger Monica Luke, Executive Director of The Living Assistance Fund, writes about the upcoming launch of 988 as a nationwide, 3-digit crisis line and how we can advocate for comprehensive crisis services in our communities.

988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline [U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)]: Resources and information to help states, territories, tribes, mental health and substance use disorder professionals, and others looking for information on understanding the background, history, funding opportunities, and implementation resources for strengthening suicide prevention and mental health crisis services.

Preparing for 988: Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Crisis Line: website detailing the background, benefits, and planning of 988; and frequently asked questions.

Technical resources

Criminal Legal System Diversion – Creating a Behavioral Health Emergency Response System (MAMH issue brief): Details on creating an effective and appropriate behavioral health emergency response system in Massachusetts.

National Guidelines for Behavioral Health Crisis Care - Best Practice Toolkit (SAMHSA): More guidance on best practices in behavioral health crisis care.

Taking the Lead to Invest in Community Crisis - International Declaration (IIMHL/Crisis Now Academy 2): A declaration to invest in community crisis.

Implementation of the 988 Hotline – A Framework for State and Local Systems Planning (Technical Assistance Collaborative): A framework for key stakeholders to use in organizing, planning, implementing, and sustaining an effective 988 crisis call system.

How to Use 988 to Respond to Behavioral Health Crisis Calls (The Council of State Governments & NAMI): Guidelines detailing how to use 988 to respond to behavioral health crisis calls.

Consensus Approach and Recommendations for the Creation of a Comprehensive Crisis Response System: Authored by the CEO Alliance on Mental Health who worked closely on the development of this shared vision to achieve a common goal - improving lives for people
with mental health and substance use disorders. This document provides a clear blueprint for building the continuum of care we need for a functioning crisis response system.


Find national crisis response system partners on the Crisis Now website.