Mental Health Awareness: What Initiatives Like “988” Do

What do initiatives like MH awareness do

Mental illness can be a touchy subject. It’s difficult for some to talk about, let alone get treatment for. However, that’s beginning to change. We’re seeing more discussions on prevention and support and less judgment.

Movements like Mental Health Awareness Month aim to provide information about and reduce the stigma of mental illness. The number of people dealing with these problems has increased since 2020, highlighting the amount of work that needs to be done for mental health support. The mental health helpline 988 and other initiatives are a great beginning.

Why Create a Mental Health Helpline?

For decades, people in mental health crises had to turn to 911 for emergency help. Typically, police respond to these calls, but most officers aren’t trained to handle mental health issues and sometimes escalate the situation. Surveys show that a quarter of law enforcement related fatalities are victims with psychological disorders. Other sufferers end up in jail. In the best-case scenario with untrained first responders, the caller receives no help, and nothing changes.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline went live in 2005, 1-800-275-TALK (8255). It provided a better option than 911 but wasn’t equipped to handle many calls. Surveys put the call answer rates at 85%, chat at 30% and text at 56%. Most of the crisis centers answering the calls only received $2,500 to $5,000 in annual funding. Much of the public didn’t know about the hotline, and those who did were afraid they wouldn’t get an answer.

Fortunately, a better option has arrived. As of July 2022, the 988 hotline is live and available by text, online chat or phone call. This initiative is better funded and more widespread than any in the past.

What Is the Purpose of 988?

The new 988 hotline is intended for mental health support. It’s available 24/7 and receives calls, texts and online chat messages. Over 200 crisis centers across all 50 states answer the hotline. If possible, calls get routed to a local call center. However, over 30% of Americans live in areas with mental health professional shortages, so calls in areas without a local facility will be routed to the nearest one available.

Who Should Use 988?

While the original program focused on suicide prevention, 988 is available for anyone needing mental health support. Often just talking to someone is enough to help the caller. Counselors can also aid callers in finding local help that fits their situation.

In emergency situations, such as a caller who poses an imminent threat to themselves or others, counselors will do everything possible before resorting to 911. They’re often able to de-escalate the situation simply by talking. They also have tools for more in-depth support, like guiding the caller to local resources or creating a plan with their loved ones. In worst-case scenarios, the counselor may need to contact first responders. Only 2% of past calls resulted in a 911 transfer, and half of those were with the caller’s consent.

Who Created 988?

The original National Suicide Prevention Lifeline was established in 2005 by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. Vibrant Emotional Health administers the service.

In 2018, a new law required the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to look into a three-digit number similar to 911 for mental health emergencies. Experts felt it would be easier to remember during a crisis and get more use. In 2019, the FCC selected the number 988, and in 2020, it was made official. Two years of preparation later, the line went live in July 2022.

SAMHSA and Vibrant still run the service. The old 10-digit number will remain active indefinitely and route callers to the 988 lines. The new law comes with additional funding and support, allowing for more call centers with better training and expanded services.

Latest Initiatives From Mental Health Organizations

The 988 hotline isn’t the only news in mental health. Many organizations are expanding outreach and supporting research on mental health. As awareness grows, so will services and education.


SAMHSA has worked on more than 988 this summer. August 31, 2022, was International Overdose Awareness Day. The organization marked the occasion by awarding $79.1 million in grants to spread awareness and increase treatment options for mental illness, as well as training first responders and medical personnel to deal with substance abuse and mental health issues. At the beginning of September 2022, SAMHSA provided $40.22 million in grants to fund school-based mental health programs and $2 million to the Academy of Pediatrics for a national center on social media and mental wellness.


The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) recently added text support to its helpline. The NAMI HelpLine provides resources and support to people dealing with mental illness. It’s available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. by phone (1-800-950-6264), online chat, email and now by text (62640). The option was added in response to increasing mental health crises among young people. Between 2019 and 2021, overall calls increased by 79%. The number of callers in immediate crisis rose 290%, and those experiencing suicidal ideation went up by 180%. Teens and young adults prefer texting over calling, making this an easy way for them to reach out. NAMI also launched a podcast in July 2022 to further spread mental health awareness.


The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is acknowledging September as National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month with social media campaigns, webinars and blog posts. The director, Joshua A. Gordon, recently wrote about the research and grants NIMH is focusing on in honor of the month. It’s providing funds for research into racial disparities in mental health treatment and for overall expansion of mental illness services, including more like 988.

Mental Health Awareness Month

The key to more mental health support is awareness. Initiatives like Mental Health Awareness Month and Mental Health Week spread the word and educate the public on these issues. Find ways you can help during Mental Health Awareness Week 2022, like sharing information online or talking to a loved one who’s having a hard time.

Help Is Available

The stigma of getting mental health treatment lessens every day. Even if you’ve felt you couldn’t reach out in the past, you can find help now. Contact us at Restore if you’re dealing with depression, suicidal thoughts or any other mental health issues. You can speak with a counselor by calling (877) 594-3566 to begin your healing journey.