988 mental health hotline restored after widespread outage causes shut down

Those trying to reach the line for help are greeted with a message that says the line is “experiencing a service outage.”
Published: Dec. 1, 2022 at 7:18 PM MST|Updated: Dec. 1, 2022 at 10:04 PM MST
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WASHINGTON (AP/3TV/CBS 5) — The nation’s new 988 hotline, intended to help anyone experiencing a mental health emergency, was out of service for several hours Thursday. Around 10 p.m., officials confirmed the hotline was back up and running.

Earlier on Thursday, those that were trying to reach the line for help with suicide, depression, or other mental health crises were greeted with a message that says the line is “experiencing a service outage.” People were asked to reach a mental health counselor through the lifeline by texting “988″ or opening a chat at 988lifeline.org.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversaw the launch of the three-digit lifeline earlier this year, was in communication with the contractor that supports the line, HHS spokeswoman Sarah Lovenheim said in a tweet Thursday.

“We’ve taken immediate action to ensure alternative 988 channels are available to the public,” Lovenheim tweeted. The outage had been ongoing for several hours Thursday, she said.

Veterans that were looking to reach the helpline could call the Veterans Crisis Line directly at 877-267-6030. The outage also affected the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Disaster Distress Helpline.

The 988 helpline, launched in July, is a national helpline staffed with mental health counselors around the country that’s designed to be as easy to remember as the emergency line, 911.

Dr. Cara Christ is the Chief Medical Officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona. She says 988 has been popular since its launch, and having an outage is a problem. “It’s going to be frustrating if somebody is calling and wants to talk to a live person. We want people who are having a mental health crisis to have access to the help they need. 988 is an important tool for that,” she explained.

Dr. Christ says talking with someone is typically the best type of treatment. While people can chat with a mental health professional or text with one, hearing someone else’s voice can be calming. “When you are struggling with some kind of mental health crisis and want to talk to somebody having that short number is very helpful in an emergency,” she said.

Intrado, the telecommunications provider for the service, could not immediately be reached for comment. In a statement on its website, the company said it is “experiencing an incident that is impacting production across numerous systems” and is “working diligently to restore service.”

Arizona’s Family News Staff contributed to this report.