988: The Suicide Prevention Hotline takes calls at this new number

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If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.

From Saturday, people with suicidal thoughts or other mental health crises can call a new three-digit hotline, 988, for help.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline was previously accessible through the 10-digit phone number 1-800-273-TALK, which will still be operational as 988 rolls out, but the three-digit number is intended to help people to “better remember and more easily dial” the number to call for help, according to the project director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, John Draper, Ph.D.

“This is a service of over 200 local centers across the country that have been doing this work for years, so what we’re talking about, basically, is a new number but not a new service…which has done proven to reduce emotional distress and suicidality for people who reach [out]“, Draper explained in an interview with Fox News Digital.

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In 2021, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline reached 3.6 million people, and Draper expects the new triple-digit lifeline to see even more activity.

The hotline is connected to more than 200 local centers that respond to mental health emergency calls, but if the people who deal with these hotlines cannot take a call, it is transferred to a “national rescue center”. to ensure that all callers receive assistance. Counselors complete a standard online training course before answering phone calls.

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“When a person reaches that line, the first thing a counselor does is listen to them and help them feel understood. We are all human…and since we were born, and have been in distress, the first thing we are looking for is comfort – human comfort – and that’s the first thing people get when they contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline,” Draper said, adding that the support callers Counselors receive helps them become “better able to mobilize their resources to care for themselves.”

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can now be reached on 988.
(REUTERS/Zoran Militch)

About 25% of callers who phone the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline are experiencing “some kind of suicidal crisis,” while the remaining 75% “are in severe emotional distress,” Draper added. He expects to see even more callers in mental health crisis – or those who know people in mental health crisis – to reach 988.

The new number is also expected to ease pressure on 911 operators and local law enforcement officers who might otherwise respond to mental health calls.

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Mental health emergencies “always needed” a separate department from police, fire and medical emergencies, Draper said.

“When people are in a mental health emergency, what they need is a caring response, not a frightening response. When you call 911, you – usually – have dispatches. They send people at your doorstep, but 90% of the time the people who called on our service were able to resolve the crisis [or] reduce the state of crisis by telephone,” he continued.

In some cases, local crisis centers will be able to send mobile 988 responders in certain emergency situations, but not all local centers currently have the resources to do so. Draper hopes that over time, more mobile crisis responders will be put in place.

“Everybody wants to make sure we can move… from what has always been a public safety response to mental health emergencies to a public health response to mental health emergencies, because the police don’t want to respond unnecessarily to the mental health emergencies, and neither does EMS. Those resources should be reserved for public safety circumstances or medically dangerous circumstances, and that’s very rarely the case with mental health crises,” Draper said.

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Some 911 centers are working to redirect some mental health calls to 988 centers, and Draper expects more centers to do so in the future.

Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). About 14 in every 100,000 Americans died by suicide in 2020. ER visits for attempted suicide among teens, in particular, have increased dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic.