The Heart of Florida United Way says since the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline went into effect on July 16, allowing people to call 988 to get help, they’ve seen a significant increase in the amount of calls coming in.  

What You Need To Know

  • The Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which went into effect on July 16, gives people a shorter and easier number to access mental health resources

  • Callers can call, text or chat the 988 hotline

  • The National Suicide Prevention Hotline and its longer number — 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is still operational

Years ago, Catherine Rea worked in the emergency room as a nurse responding to urgent medical situations. She now leads HFUW’s 211 call center and led the transition to the 988 number. She says that transition was smooth because the 988 hotline uses the same systems that were already in place for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, and its longer number.

With more calls coming in to 988, Rea says they’re adding more staff.

“We’re steadily seeing the increase,” said Rea. “We have been ramping up and onboarding staff, and we’ll continue to do that so we can meet the need.”

Levitt Perez knows what it’s like to be in a difficult situation where people need mental health services.  He’s a military veteran. He often turns to exercise to combat mental health challenges. But after a broken wrist from a car accident, that’s become more difficult.

“Discipline and a good regimen and a good routine help me from getting into that place,” said Perez. “So, basketball is a big part of that, so hopefully I can get my wrist back so I can start playing again. Exercise has been a huge part of it for me.”

Perez has military memorabilia from his service in the Navy. But that service left him with mental scars that, despite much progress, he still struggles with. 

“Your body still reacts sometimes, or at least for me, my body still reacts in a way as if I was still in a dangerous situation even though I could be sitting here just having a conversation like you and I are having, I get this anxiety, tightness in my body,” said Perez.

Perez says the new hotline is a potential lifesaver for people, including veterans like himself who battle mental illness. On average, 22 veterans a day take their own life.

“When I’ve been in those periods of my life when I was really down, I wasn’t really thinking about doing proactive things, or reaching out, or calling the hotline,” said Perez.

“So the easier it is for people I think, the better it is going to be ultimately,” he said.

Perez is studying to get an IT certification. He says that work will make him happier.

“Being able to work remotely from a computer from anywhere can give me the opportunity to travel, I really enjoyed traveling when I was in the Navy,” said Perez.

Perez says the biggest mental battle he faces every day is how to stay positive, and not let setbacks or challenges prevent him from moving forward.

“I have a dream and a vision for my life and things are inevitably going to happen. I just choose to not get stuck and down about it and choose to be proactive and productive,” said Perez.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline and its longer number—1-800-273-TALK (8255), is still operational. The 988 hotline simply gives people an easier number to call to get help.  You can also text 988 or chat with someone at