Challenges to Just and Effective 988 Implementation

By Deanie Anyangwe and Whitney Bunts

The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which was signed into law after receiving bipartisan support in 2020 and launched in 2022, authorized 988 as the new three-digit number for people experiencing suicidal, mental, and behavioral health crises. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and administered by Vibrant Emotional Health. As 988 is built out, there is growing concern from policymakers, advocates, and community members around its implementation and impact.

Youth and young adults currently face an unprecedented mental and behavioral health crisis that has led to an increase in youth suicide rates, mental and behavioral health concerns, and disconnection from school and work. This crisis acutely impacts Black, brown, and Indigenous young people who experience systemic racism through structural disadvantages such as mass criminalization, unemployment, and housing insecurity. 988 should serve as an opportunity to transform the way young people view services and build trust in the crisis systems that serve them, rather than becoming a new entrypoint into the criminal legal system for Black youth and other marginalized young people.

This series of fact sheets explores the challenges and missed opportunities to effectively implement 988 and transform the United States’ existing mental and behavioral health crisis response system.