The most renowned suicide prevention hotline service in the US has change its name and number in an effort to revamp the service and make it easier for callers to access support. Here’s a look at the new 988 number, what the service is about and who can use it.
The New Name & Number For Suicide Prevention
It was formerly well-known as The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and used to be reached on 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
It is now reachable by calling 988. It also has a new, shorter name: The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
The old 1-800-273-TALK (8255) number will apparently continue being active for the foreseeable future for those unaware of the number change.
What Is The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline?
The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (formerly the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) is a US-based support service offering a toll-free hotline for those in emotional distress or feeling suicidal. The service has a national network of more than 180 crisis centres in 50 states staffed by professionals so as to provide 24/7 support to their callers and users. The hotline is open to those needing support themselves, as well as for friends and loved ones calling out of concern for someone else. The service is free and confidential.
It should be noted that you, or the person you are calling because of, do not need to be suicidal to use the service. As per the 988 website : “People do not have to be suicidal to call – reasons to call include: substance abuse, economic worries, relationships, sexual identity, illness, getting over abuse, depression mental and physical illness, and loneliness.”
When someone dials the new 988 number, they’ll be routed straight to their nearest crisis centre to speak with a call handler. This handler will be able to listen, offer initial counselling and support, and be able to refer to other local mental health services if required.
The service was first initiated on January 1st 2005, launched by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Vibrant Emotional Health. Vibrant Emotional Health is the grant’s administrator and works in conjunction with several additional partners, including the likes of the National Council For Behavioural Health, Living Works Inc, and the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors.
The coordinated efforts of these partnerships aim to collaborate to better fund and implement resources for mental health support and suicide prevention. The Lifeline has taken more than 20 million calls since its inception.
In addition to the lifeline itself, more than 66% of their 180+ crisis centres also provide mental health and suicide prevention training within their respective communities.
How To Access The 988 Service
You can contact the 988 Lifeline service in a few ways, including :
- Call the freephone 988 number for a telephone chat
- Use the online chat function for real-time text talking on their website
- Text 988
- For the deaf or hard of hearing, use preferred relay service or dial 711 followed by 988
The Need For Mental Health & Suicide Prevention Hotlines
As most people who have tried to access a doctor or get a mental health referral will know, the support system for such issues can be appalling at the best of times.
A hotline is not a long-term solution but a potentially vital bandage when one is needed in order to get that person on to the help they need.
If someone finds themselves near the edge and struggling, speaking with a professional on the phone or even by text can simply connect you to another human being, anchor you when the waters get choppy. The service can also provide some support for those worried about a friend, colleague, partner or family member, as well as advise on how to help that loved one, because it’s not easy feeling helpless when someone you care about is struggling.
In 2020, suicide was the 12th leading cause of death in the United States, with almost 46,000 suicides recorded.
988 notes that for every single individual who dies by suicide, there are another 316 people that seriously contemplate, but do not go through with, killing themselves.
The idea of hotlines like this is to connect the caller to a counsellor, listener or other professional to get them instant support when they may need it the most. 988 transfers users to a trained counsellor and the hope is to de-escalate the situation, signpost or refer to local services if required, and leave the caller feeling a little better and safer. This is not a long term support solution and is no replacement for counselling or other mental health services; those who are struggling or feeling suicidal should seek the appropriate professional support. A hotline may just bridge the gap and be a safety net when immediate intervention is needed.
Why Did The Name & Number Change?
Shortening the number to dial to a three digit number should make it quicker and easier for those in need to call. The slightly shortened name also modernises the service and should it easier to recall, thus easier to promote.
At pivotal moments when someone needs support – when in crisis, scared, confused or suicidal – having to go online to search for a helpline number is not something everyone will be able or wiling to do. The simple 988 will hopefully be more memorable, and thus encourage more use of the hotline.
The service hopes that more chats, calls and texts will arise from this change, helping to progress the access to mental health support in this era of connectivity, busy-ness and technology. According to Hannah Wesolowski, a chief advocacy officer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 988 is a turning point for reimagining mental health care: “We’re really looking at a fundamental tide shift in how we respond to people in mental health crisis.”
The 988 Name & Number Aren’t The Only Things To Change
As per the above suggestion that 988 signals a transformation in care for mental health, it’s not just the name and number for this service that have changed. Additional funding has been granted and new policy changes have been implemented.
There are a few hopes for this revised service and its use. For instance:
- Greater awareness of the hotline and the ways in which individuals can access 988 depending on their needs and preferences
- A focus on high quality and tailoring to the individual’s needs, while maintaining best practice guidelines
- Ensuring all individuals contacting 988 are supported by connecting them to local community resources and following up as appropriate
In essence, they’re hoping to make this a more robust, well-known, supportive and accessible service.
Who Can Use The 988 Lifeline?
The 988 services is for those in the United States.
Veterans in the US can also call this number; by stating their status as a US military vet, they’ll be redirected to a dedicated veterans hotline.
Sadly, despite Canada reportedly having the third highest suicide rate in the ‘industrialised world’, there’s no dedicated national hotline available. Calls for such a hotline, which has supposedly been under development for a few years, have grown louder in the wake of the changes to the US service. Canada hopes to get its own support service and 3-digit crisis number.
For other countries, a Google search should be able to bring up mental health services and crisis hotline numbers in your area.
In the UK, there are a few mental health charities offering immediate support on the phone. One is Suicide Prevention UK (SP-UK) : 0800 689 5652. Another is Samaritans : 116 123
If you need support or want to find out more, you can visit the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline website here.