If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or a suicidal crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). Crisis counselors are available 24/7.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Starting Saturday, people can dial or text 988 to speak to someone on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if they are in crisis.

The new three-digit number was approved in 2020 to make crisis support more accessible. The current 1-800-273-8255 number will remain in service after the July 16 change.

Calls connect people with crisis counselors when they need support for suicidal, mental health and/or substance use crises. After dialing, calls are answered at over 200 crisis centers across the country. They are routed to the closest center based on area code, according to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Vibrant Emotional Health, the nonprofit that oversees the national lifeline, said it expects call volume increases because the number is easier to remember and due to media attention.

In Texas, calls are answered at five centers in Austin, Houston, El Paso, Fort Worth and Dallas. 

A spokesperson for the HHS department said lifeline centers are facing staffing shortages, but the Health and Human Services Commission is offering sign-on bonuses to recruit new employees. Texas has the second-highest call volume of all states and answers the fourth most calls after California, New York and Florida, according to HHS.

There are currently 127 full-time crisis counselors in Texas, but this number fluctuates, according to a spokesperson.

“We are analyzing call volume and working on projections to determine our future needs for the launch of the new 988 number,” a spokesperson said.

The Austin provider, Integral Care, is “well-positioned” for the launch of 988, said Nicole Warren, the helpline and crisis line practice manager.

“What this really means is that people will have easier access,” Warren said. “It’s important to remember that nothing is going to change here, in the sense that the local mental health authority crisis centers are still going to be there. We are not going anywhere.”

Local answers for help

Warren said it’s important that calls are answered locally because counselors know the areas and how to get local support after the call. For example, Integral Care counselors can connect someone in Williamson County with their local mental health authority if they want more support.

Integral Care also offers a local helpline at 512-472-4357 for people wishing to speak directly to an Austin counselor.

In 2020, about 30% of calls in Texas connected to in-state crisis centers were answered by Texas crisis centers. The in-state rate was 56% in June. If no one is available locally, calls are routed out of state.

Texas Health and Human Services department’s goal is to answer 90% of calls in-state before April 2024.

In Texas, between one in five and one in six calls are potentially abandoned, according to HHS.

Nationally, one in six calls is abandoned, as reported by the Wall Street Journal and confirmed by Vibrant Emotional Health. Vibrant added that 80% of calls are abandoned after waiting two minutes or less, and 28% of callers redialed the lifeline in 2021 within 24 hours and were connected to a counselor.

“The Lifeline has traditionally been underfunded, and it is a priority to continue to strengthen our growing infrastructure, help support local crisis centers, and provide support for the counselors answering Lifeline calls and chats across the United States,” a Vibrant spokesperson said.

Warren said she always tells people who are nervous to call the Lifeline or Helpline is “When in doubt, call.”

“You can be the person in crisis that is calling, or the person concerned about somebody who is in crisis, we can help guide that. We can offer some information, we can also be a listening ear,” Warren said. “90% of calls are often just resolved with just listening.”

If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or a suicidal crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). Crisis counselors are available 24/7.