There is a new mental health crisis hotline available for children and adults to access before or during an emergency.

988 is a nationwide, three-digit number for mental health and suicidal crises. 988 connects people to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a network of over 200 local call centers that provide mental health services and emotional support to people in crisis.

Anyone who is experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis, or thoughts of suicide – or any of their loved ones who are concerned – is able to dial in.

Most times, someone experiencing a mental health situation is really looking for someone to talk to and to feel like they are being heard.

“It’s important to understand that 988 will connect people to more than just a suicide prevention line. It will be a service for anyone who is suicidal or experiencing a mental health-related crisis,” says Eva Loayza-McBride, deputy director of communications for the NJ Department of Human Services. “Numerous studies have shown that the Lifeline works—most callers are significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed and more hopeful after speaking to a Lifeline crisis counselor.”

When a person calls, texts or chats to 988, they will be connected to trained crisis counselors who will listen to their concerns, provide support and get them additional help or connect them to other resources if needed. The service is free, confidential and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

There are lots of theories about why mental health issues are on the rise – including the pervasiveness of smartphones and social media, lack of sleep, earlier onset of puberty – but no consensus among experts.

Parents who are concerned about their child’s behavior should look out for anxiety, self-hating thoughts, hopelessness, irritability and rage, feeling trapped, feeling like they are a burden and loss of interest in school, friends and activities.

To prevent suicide, parents should let children know they are concerned and take action immediately by connecting them with professional help.

“A mental health crisis deserves a mental health response, and the goal of 988 is to ensure everyone experiencing a crisis gets the help they need and that it is culturally and linguistically responsive. This could be a supportive voice on the phone or something more intensive, depending on the person’s situation,” said Matt Camarda, Advocacy Engagement manager for NAMI NJ (National Alliance on Mental Illness).

“With an easier number to call, text or chat we hope more people in need of support for themselves or loved ones will reach out for help,” Loayza-McBride said.

Additional resources:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Crisis Text Line: Text “CONNECT” to 741741
  • Trevor Project (for LGBTQ+): www.thetrevorproject.org
  • Veterans Crisis Line: www.veteranscrisisline.net
  • New Jersey Hospital Association: What Should I Do? resource guide
  • 180 Turning Lives Around: 2nd Floor 1-888-222-2228 Youth Helpline
  • Caring Contact: Caring and Crisis Line (908-232-2880) available from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.; text line available 24/7 (text “heart” to 741-741)