Key Takeaways

  • If you’re in severe emotional distress, one of the first things you should do is tell someone else about it—such as a trusted friend or family member.

  • You can also dial or text 988 from your phone to speak with a counselor who is specially trained in suicide prevention.

  • The 988 service is free, confidential, and available to everyone in the United States 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

If you’re feeling sad, lonely, and hopeless—and have had thoughts of harming yourself—know that you are not alone. Many people, even those who seem to have everything going for them, have had feelings similar to what you're experiencing right now.

Thinking about suicide does not make you a failure or a weak person. It simply means you are in a great deal of pain. There is hope beyond that pain, and help is available when you feel you have no other options.

What should I do if I’m having suicidal thoughts?

One of the first steps to coping with an emotional crisis is to immediately tell someone else how you’re feeling. Whether it’s a trusted friend, family member, clergy member, therapist, or doctor, another person can often remind you that your presence in this world matters and that life is worth living. The simple act of “talking it out” can help relieve some of the intensity of your emotions and help you see solutions to your problems more clearly.

“While there is much more work to be done to make mental health and substance use care truly accessible, 988 is the first step in telling older adults: you are not alone, what you are feeling is real, and you deserve to feel better,” said Deb Steinberg, a health policy attorney at the Legal Action Center (LAC).

The person you turn to doesn’t have to be someone you know. You can dial or text 988 from your phone to speak with a counselor who is specially trained in suicide prevention. These counselors are available anytime, day or night. Calling 988 is also an option if you’re not feeling heard or understood by the first person you reached out to.

What is 988? How can a suicide prevention hotline help me?

988 is a new universal dialing code created to broaden access to lifesaving suicide prevention and crisis services. The code was made available to everyone across the U.S. on July 16, 2022. Dialing 988 connects people in crisis (or concerned friends, family, and caregivers) directly to the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, where counselors provide free, unbiased, and confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Dialing 988 is just like dialing 911 for emergency response or 411 for information services. There’s no need to dial any other digits besides those three.

Older adults who call or send a text message to 988 are put in touch with a trained counselor from the existing Suicide Prevention Lifeline network. Located in 200 crisis centers all over the country, these counselors are experienced in responding to people in emotional distress, including those with suicidal intent. Studies have shown that after talking to a Lifeline counselor, people often feel less depressed and more hopeful about their situation.

What happens when I dial 988?

You can reach the Lifeline by dialing or texting 988 from any phone or smartphone. You can also talk to a counselor via online chat by visiting the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline website. Here’s what happens when you reach out:

  • When you call 988: You'll first hear an automated message that explains your options and asks you to either make a selection on your keypad or stay on hold. After doing so, you'll hear some background music as you wait for a crisis counselor to come on the line. The system is designed to connect you to a counselor who is closest to your local area. Once a counselor answers the phone, they will listen carefully, without judgement, to what you're feeling and experiencing. Beyond providing comfort and reassurance, your counselor will offer coping strategies to help you feel better. They may also refer you to local resources that can provide you with ongoing mental health support.
  • When you text 988: When you send a text to 988, you'll be asked to complete a brief survey. Your survey responses will give the counselor a bit more information about your situation. You will then be put in touch with a live counselor who will ask you about what you're feeling. They will provide comfort and empathy as they help you navigate your challenging situation. They may also advise you on any local resources or providers who can continue to support you after the text conversation is over.
  • When you choose the live chat option: Visiting the live chat feature on the Lifeline website will bring you to a short survey to help direct you to the most appropriate counselor for your needs. After you fill out the survey and agree to the terms of service, you will be connected with a counselor. A message on the screen will tell you how long you’ll have to wait to speak to a live counselor. If you have trouble accessing the chat feature or the wait time is too long, dial 988 instead.

Can I dial 988 if I’m a veteran in emotional distress?

Yes. The 988 number was created to address the needs of both veterans and non-veterans. The existing Veterans Crisis Line, which has counselors who specialize in supporting veterans, service members, and their families, will still be available. Dial 988 and then press "1" to reach the Veterans Crisis Line or dial 1-800-273-8255 and press "1." If texting is preferred, you can text 838255 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line directly. You don't have to be receiving VA benefits or health care to call the crisis line.

When to dial 988: Warning signs to look out for

If you or an older adult you know is experiencing or showing any of the signs below, it’s important to seek help immediately by dialing or texting 988 (or texting 838255 for veterans):

Behaviors:

  • Researching suicide methods (e.g., searching online or visiting a gun shop)
  • Purchasing a firearm or other potential tools for self-harm
  • Sleeping too much, or too little
  • Behaving in a self-destructive or reckless manner
  • Acting anxious or agitated
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Extreme mood swings or rage
  • Increased use of alcohol and/or drugs

Talking about:

  • Wanting to die or commit self-harm or suicide
  • Feeling trapped and hopeless
  • Being a burden to family and friends
  • Having no reason to live anymore

No matter what, you always have someone to turn to

Sadness and depression can make you feel all alone in the world. But there are caring people who want to help you through this very difficult time, no matter what problems you’re dealing with. Open to everyone in the U.S., the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (988) provides caring, 24/7 support for people in emotional crisis. If you or an older adult you care about is struggling, dial or text 988 now to speak with a Lifeline counselor.

Note: The old Lifeline phone number (1-800-273-8255) will continue to be available to people in emotional distress, even with the national launch of 988.