On July 16th, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number will transfer to ‘988’ in an effort to make support more readily available in moments of crisis. Currently, suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the U.S. and is the second leading cause of death for people aged 10 through 34. The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown have contributed to the growing mental health crisis.
How will the hotline work?
At the beginning of a 988 call, it will be determined if the caller is a Spanish-speaking individual or a veteran. Then, the call will be directed to the closest crisis center, based on their area code. From there, the caller will connect with a trained counselor.
It is important to note that the original Lifeline number, 1-800-273-8255, will still be operational even after the switch to ‘988.’ After July 16th, both numbers will be in effect, and callers can dial either for support.
According to the Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey, 44% of teens in the U.S. feel “persistently sad and helpless.” While the national suicide rate in the United States did decrease for certain groups within the past couple of years, it increased during the pandemic for young Black and Hispanic males and multiracial females.
Additionally, the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth suicide prevention organization, notes that young members of the LGBTQ community are four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers. This increased risk can be traced back to mistreatment, harmful stereotypes, and dangerous stigmas in society.
Implementation of 988 hotline
Research from the National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP) cited that only 21 states enacted legislation to implement and allocate funding for the new hotline. States have been encouraged to prepare for an influx of calls by recruiting and retaining qualified personnel and establishing sustainable call center funding. Notably, when a person dials 988 in a state still developing its call centers, the back end of the system can route the call to the National Suicide Hotline.
Even with the $105 million of federal funding awarded to states and territories across the U.S., Robert Gebbia, chief executive officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, predicts an adjustment period before the ‘988’ network will run smoothly, considering the anticipated surge in demand.
‘988’ is a way to extend support and strengthen the nation’s crisis response system. Having more counselors readily available across the nation will make a meaningful, positive impact on American lives.