New 988 Suicide Prevention Hotline Launched Nationwide

On July 16, 2022, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number became ‘988’. This was a change made to make it more accessible to seek help in a moment of crisis. “It’s a new number, but it’s not a new service,” said John Draper, the executive director of Lifeline. Suicide is one of the principal causes of death especially among the youth. In fact in 2020, roughly every 11 minutes, there was one death by suicide in the US.

According to experts, Lifeline is already grappling to meet the demands of callers. This is a result of the spike in youth suicides during the pandemic. They’re very many people suffering from mental health distress and suicide crisis who don’t get the assistance they need. So, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is much needed. At a recent press briefing, the secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra said “If you are willing to turn to someone in your moment of crisis, 988 will be there, 988 won’t be a busy signal, and 988 won’t put you on hold. You will get help.”

With over 200 crisis centers, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a national network assisting tons of people overcome their crises daily. It provides support to individuals who are afflicted by mental health or are suicidal. The services are confidential and available 24/7. Calling or texting 988 will connect individuals to mental health professionals and trained counselors in the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (which was the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). They will lend a listening ear and provide the support and any resources needed. Studies show that callers tend to feel less depressed and suicidal after talking to Lifeline counselors. The CEO of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, Chuck Ingoglia stated, “We know that close to 90% of people who call get what they need from the phone call.” 

The 988 Suicide and Crisis also provides support to individuals concerned that a loved one may need support in a crisis. According to the Federal Communications Commission, calls and texts made to the former number (1-800-273-8255) will still reach the 988 lifelines. Veterans can also access assistance from the lifeline by pressing “1” after dialing 988 or texting the Veterans Crisis Lifeline short code: 838255. These will connect them to the Veterans Crisis Lifeline. Another group that will benefit from Lifeline is the LGBTQ community. According to the Trevor Project, LGBTQ youth are most likely to attempt suicide more than 4 times more than their peers. The director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at the Trevor Project Preston Mitchum said, “Bullying, discrimination, family rejection, lack of social support, and conversion ‘therapy’ attempts — these are all common risk factors that are unique to LGBTQ youth and can contribute to negative mental health outcomes.” 

The federal funding to 988 networks across the U.S has increased. The lifeline centers are supported by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and by local and state sources. Additionally, President Biden’s administration increased the investments in the 988 lifelines, which were $24 million, to $432 million. This is inclusive of $105 million in grant funding to states and territories across the U.S. The aim is to strengthen crisis call center services and ensure they are ready to manage the expected wave of calls to the Lifeline.

According to the president and CEO of Vibrant Emotional Health, Kimberly Williams, the funding has increased in recent months to support the transition to 988. “These funds will be used to fund nationalized services in the Lifeline network, which includes the national backup network, chat and text network, and Spanish subnetwork, as well as to continue developing the infrastructure and services needed to support the 988 networks,” Williams said. “Lifeline backup and nationalized services are an important and proven component of ensuring a mental health safety net, particularly when there are demand surges.”

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