The anniversary of 988

How Carelon Behavioral Health helps fill gaps in crisis response.

A new number for mental health emergencies


In 2020, Congress passed the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act. This legislation made 988 the universal telephone number for suicide prevention and established it as a mental health crisis hotline. The new law replaced the nation’s longstanding 800 number with three easy-to-remember digits, similar to 911.1

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline  officially launched in July 2022, showing dramatic results in its first few months. 

Carelon Behavioral Health has played an instrumental role in 988’s operations since the beginning, contributing significantly to the program’s overall success.


Partnering with 988 


Long before the advent of 988, Carelon Behavioral Health worked with states, regions, and counties around the country to unify the approach to crisis care. In 2021, the company contracted with the state of New Hampshire to operate a behavioral health crisis line, becoming certified to answer 988 shortly thereafter.

Working with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Vibrant Emotional Health, Carelon Behavioral Health set up a nationwide backup center in May 2022 capable of answering up to 20,000 texts and chats per month. By November, the company expanded its capabilities by establishing a Spanish language line.


The results


Only one year after its launch, 988 is reaching people who may not have otherwise sought help.

“The answer rate for text and chat has skyrocketed as young people continue to recover from the pandemic’s impact,” observes Wendy Martinez Farmer, Regional Vice President of Sales for Carelon Behavioral Health. “Most individuals using 988 chat and text services are under age 25. We’ve learned that many of them are currently experiencing or have recently experienced suicidal thoughts.”

Text and chat answer rates continue to trend upward, reaching 96% or higher in December 2022, compared with 24% for chats and 52% for texts from the previous year.3

These figures have helped illuminate the benefits of the new crisis line. In response, many states are ramping up to handle increased volume. “Now that 988 is in place, states are in a better position to implement mobile teams and crisis stabilization programs,” Martinez Farmer explains. “This is essential for individuals for whom a call, text, or chat is not enough to meet their needs.”


Where we go from here


In the wake of 988’s success, stakeholders are demanding more responsive systems and allocating more funds to support them. “Prior to 988, states were the primary payers for crisis systems. Now, more payers are getting involved. This allows us to weave funding sources together to support greater capacity,” says Martinez Farmer.

In several markets, Carelon Behavioral Health holds collaborative community meetings where stakeholders share data, identify gaps in care, and work to improve both quality and access. People with lived expertise who have used 988 or other crisis services provide critical input on how to continuously improve the system.

Martinez Farmer observes, “People deserve a behavioral health response for their emergencies. Lights and sirens only exacerbate already challenging situations. We’re changing the whole experience through an emerging crisis continuum. 988 is the first piece of the puzzle.”

With the help of technology, 988 can dispatch mobile response teams and help individuals find specialized urgent care and crisis stabilization programs. Communication between crisis lines and crisis services ensures that information is shared securely and quickly. As a result, individuals experience easier access without having to tell their story repeatedly.

988 is the first step in bringing together behavioral health resources that provide the right care at the right time and reduce unnecessary costs such as emergency room visits.

“Rather than supplant existing services, we augment them,” Martinez Farmer notes. “Carelon Behavioral Health works with stakeholders in regions across the country to manage crisis systems, ensure quality performance, and promote best practices,” she concludes.

1.  GovInfo: Public Law 116-172 - National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020 (accessed June 2023): .
2.  Kaiser Family Foundation: Taking a Look at 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline Implementation (accessed June 2023): .