09 Aug 988: Everything You Need to Know About the New Suicide Hotline
Teens need 24/7, confidential, life-saving resources. Funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the new 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline can be an effective, confidential mental health resource for teens with suicidal thoughts, substance abuse concerns, or other mental health emergencies. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about teen suicide prevention using this hotline and how to make it accessible to the teens in your life.
What Is 988?
Much like calling 911, 988 is a simple, three digit number, created to provide easily accessible and confidential crisis services. However, instead of general emergency resources, 988 is specifically focused on suicide, substance use, and other mental health crises. Callers will be connected with a trained mental health counselor at one of over 200 call centers throughout the United States for immediate help and resources. For those who prefer to use a website, the lifeline offers a chat function accessible through https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/. Contacting this number or using the chat site can be an active force for teen suicide prevention.
How Does It Work?
The lifeline is available 24/7 for confidential support. The system uses geolocation to connect the person in need of help with the closest operator based on the area code of the phone number they use to contact the service. In an emergency situation, a person might be asked to provide a more accurate location to send help or provide local resources. While calls may be monitored or recorded for quality and training purposes, users are not obligated to provide any personal information to access the services they need.
Who Can Call?
The lifeline is accessible to anyone within the United States, its territories, or tribes as long as they have access to telephone, cellular, or internet services. Anyone requiring mental health-related crisis support for themselves or someone they are concerned about will be connected with a counselor. Calls are currently available in English and Spanish with translations to over 250 other languages as well. At this time, texts are limited to English only, so non-english speakers are encouraged to call the line to speak directly with someone who can assist them. Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 followed by 988.
What Will Happen?
It is the intention of the lifeline that those who reach out will get immediate help, without being put on hold. First, callers will hear a greeting message while they are being connected to a local crisis center. Next, they will meet a trained crisis counselor who answers the call, listens, understands their problem and provides support or resources. If for some reason, a local crisis center is inaccessible, the caller will be routed automatically to a national backup crisis center. For those contacting via text or chat, they will be presented with a short survey to help a crisis counselor learn about their situation and provide appropriate assistance.
Why Use 988?
Rather than general emergency services, callers or texters will be directed to specific mental health professionals that are able to address suicide concerns. Instead of using 911 and potentially experiencing further challenges meeting with law enforcement or ending up in a hospital, 988 provides mental health counseling to assist those struggling with specific tools to get the appropriate care they need as soon as possible. While currently, only a very small percentage of calls require connection to emergency services, if life-saving action must be taken to prevent a suicide attempt, counselors might share information with 911 that is critical to saving that person’s life.
Is It New?
While this crisis lifeline has been around since 2005, it has been recently adapted to become more easily accessible to Americans in need of mental health assistance. The number was previously formatted as a full 11 digit phone number but was relaunched in July 2022 to be modeled after the information and emergency service numbers that people are accustomed to using. Calls and texts to the previous number, 1-800-273-8255, will be routed to 988, therefore immediate assistance is still available for those who are not yet aware of the change.
Post 988 Wherever Teens Are!
With adolescent suicide on the rise, it is crucial that parents, educators, and other guardians educate students about this life saving resource. Have an open and honest discussion with them about their comfort using it in an emergency situation; and share that this is a safe space where they can get help for themselves or others without being judged. For those who would like to get involved, the call centers are offering positions to volunteers and paid employees to acquire specialized training and make a difference saving lives.
At Tilly’s Life Center, our mission is to provide teen mental health resources that support and protect the wellness of young people navigating hardships. We understand that some teens are going through some of the most extreme and challenging mental health situations and need immediate help. This is why we believe 988 is an invaluable tool for teen suicide prevention and giving young people the second chance at life that they so deeply deserve.