Starting July 16, 2022, people experiencing a mental health crisis no longer have to dial a ten-digit phone number or 911 for immediate help. There’s a new three-digit hotline: 988.

Having a number to call during a mental health emergency was critical when Angela Kimball’s son, Alex experienced a manic episode. “He was really paranoid,” Kimball said, “He was delusional. He had ripped out all the cabinets in the house.” A family friend called a local mental health hotline and a team of professionals arrived a short time later. “I was led by behavioral health clinicians who were so calm,” Kimball said, “No one’s worst day should stop them from living their best life.”

Experts believe 988 will help more people access that kind of support because it’s an easy number to remember, similarly to 911. The number aims to give callers with mental illness someone to talk to, someone to respond and a place to heal.

The new hotline would not necessarily lead to an interaction with police. Kimball, who is a mental health advocate with the group Inseparable explains, “Especially for communities of color relying on law enforcement can be so fraught and that’s why it’s really important for us as a nation to embrace 988.”

The new three digits would replace the National Suicide Lifeline. Suicide rates in the U.S. increased by 30% from the year 2000 to 2020, according to the CDC. And the risk is especially high for children, with experts warning the pandemic hit young people the hardest.

But there are concerns that more 988 calls could overwhelm call centers, already underfunded and understaffed in some states. In Illinois earlier this year, trained counselors were only able to pick up 1 in 5 calls locally. Diana Knaebe heads Memorial Behavioral Health in Springfield, Illinois that has a call center. “We may not be able to answer the phone on a regional level,” she says, “It may end up bouncing on to the statewide or to a national group.”

The Biden administration has invested 432 million dollars into strengthening and expanding the call center infrastructure, including funding directly to states. States are allowed to impose telecommunication fees to cover the remainder.