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988: A new look suicide prevention hotline

Words by Smiley Team

The United States is facing a mental health crisis in youth and adults. Two out of five adults report symptoms of anxiety or depression, and a 2019 study found one in three high school students and half of female students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness – an increase of 40% from 2009.

To help support those in need, the Biden administration announced a set of programs aimed at tackling the crisis. “The President is announcing a national mental health strategy to strengthen system capacity, connect more Americans to care, and create a continuum of support,” a White House release said. 

Free, confidential hotline

One of the programs being introduced is a new free and confidential national suicide hotline. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline was established in 2005 as the name entails: a hotline for people to call when they were considering ending their lives.

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One of the criticisms of it, though, was the phone number. The number, 800-273-8255, was a full-length number and was criticized for being hard to remember. It saw a rise in use following the rapper Logic’s song, 1-800-273-8255, but it was tedious in critical situations. 

So, in response, the new direct suicide hotline will be a simple 988. "We can all help prevent suicide," the website states. "The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals in the United States."

“Beginning July 16 of this year, all 988 calls will be routed to the national suicide hotline,” said Jodi Manz, project director of behavioral health, aging and disability at the health policy group. 

The change to 988 follows the US system of three-digit governmental hotlines, including 911, and things like the non-emergency 511, and the local government 311. 

“Through the American Rescue Plan, the Administration has provided $180 million to support local capacity to answer crisis calls, and establish more community-based mobile crisis response and crisis stabilizing facilities to minimize unnecessary emergency department visits,” the White House says. 

The Lifeline website also has a host of resources for those in need – including signposting to local centres, FAQs, as well as stories of hope and recovery.

“988 is more than a number, it is a message: we’re there for you. Through this and other actions, we are treating mental health as a priority and putting crisis care in reach for more Americans,” Department of Health Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “There is still much work to do. But what matters is that we’re launching, 988 will be live. We are looking to every governor and every state in the nation to do their part to make this a long-term success.”

Inspired to act?

VOLUNTEER: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is looking for volunteers to work at their network of local crisis centers. Find out more.

SUPPORT: Check out NAMI, or the National Alliance on Mental Illness. They’re an organization that works to help people with mental illness in the US. 

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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