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What You Need to Know About the Suicide Prevention Hotline Changing to 988

suicide prevention hotline

In July 2022, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will officially change from 1-800-273-8255 to the three-digit dialing code 988. Like calling 911 for first responder aid, those who dial 988 will be directed to a local suicide prevention hotline to receive immediate assistance with mental distress. Here’s what you should know.

What is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline?

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of crisis call centers providing 24/7, free, and confidential support to people who are having suicidal thoughts or in emotional distress. According to the Associated Press, the Lifeline answered over two million calls throughout the U.S. in 2018 alone. Calls have doubled since 2014, which had approximately one million calls. 

Why is the Lifeline number changing?

A national, three-digit dialing code to direct callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives in the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act (H.R. 2345) of 2017. This charged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with figuring out if and how this could be done.

In 2019, the FCC officially recommended the switch to 988, resulting in the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act becoming law in May 2020. Shortly after, the FCC voted that the change will happen in July 2022. 

In an interview with the Today Show, chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, said one of the main goals of changing the Lifeline to the shorter 988 number is to reduce the stigma associated with mental health.

“No one is embarrassed to call 911 for a fire or an emergency. No one should be embarrassed to call 988 for a mental health emergency,” said Dwight Holton, CEO of Lines for Life.

Making a nationally recognized number similar to 911 increases the ease and accessibility of the Lifeline so that those considering suicide or self-harm can receive help more efficiently. This transition will also help ensure more mental health crisis calls go to the Lifeline, rather than 911, as the Lifeline call centers have advanced training in helping someone experiencing a mental health emergency. 

Why is the change to 988 going to take two years?

The FCC wants to ensure that when 988 goes live as the Lifeline number, it will be a smooth transition for service providers and callers. There is also an expected uptick in call volume once the number goes live, so the FCC needs to make sure the network of crisis centers are ready for the increase. In this interview, Chairman Pai mentioned that counselors and project members believe a minimum of two years is needed to deliver a successful transition from the old number to the new suicide prevention hotline.

Why does America need 988 as a suicide prevention hotline?

As this FCC report states, “the importance of rapid access to crisis intervention and suicide prevention services has never been more critical.”

Here are a few statistics:

The COVID-19 pandemic has also greatly increased depression, anxiety and suicide. The CDC conducted a survey of 5,412 people in late June 2020 and found that 25.5% of young adults ages 18 to 24 seriously considered suicide because of the pandemic and its impacts on their life. Anxiety levels are at all-time highs and the number of Americans reporting anxiety symptoms is three times higher than this time last year.

In light of all these statistics, the creation of a three-digit suicide prevention hotline will be one of many important tools in America’s fight to prevent suicide.

As reported by the FCC, callers to the Lifeline were “significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful by the end of calls.” What’s very promising is that 76.2% of those who called the Lifeline felt that their call contributed “a lot” to their decision to not end their life. Implementing 988 will only increase the Lifeline’s positive effects for those struggling with suicide or depression. 

What can you do to help prevent suicide? 

  1. Be aware of suicidal behavior. Consistently check-in with loved ones and pay attention to their behaviors. Young people are especially susceptible to social pressures of all kinds. For parents, it’s important to be aware of what your child might be experiencing to better understand their emotional and mental health. Ask your child and loved ones how they’re doing. Ask them if anything is bothering them—listen closely to what they say. Remind them that you’re there to support them in whatever they may need.
  2. Educate yourself. Take time to learn common warning signs of mental distress as well as risk factors of self-harm in youth. KVC also provides a free mental health assessment parents can do with their child to determine if they may be struggling with depression and if it’s time for professional support. Click here to access this assessment instantly.
  3. Monitor media consumption. Being aware of the media your loved ones are consuming can also be helpful in understanding what they are going through. This applies to both a child’s and adult’s media consumption. Because of its constant presence in their lives, social media can create negative perceptions that affect mental health. It’s also important to have open, honest and age-appropriate conversations with children about what they’re seeing.
  4. Encourage discussion. If suicide prevention is an important topic to you, engage with others about it. Share this article and others via social media to spread mental health awareness. Listen to those who are suffering and encourage them to speak with loved ones and professionals. Most importantly, urge compassion. It’s important to spread the message that those contemplating suicide are suffering and need support, not stigma. 

Additional resources

As you look further into the new suicide prevention Lifeline number, be sure to investigate other valuable resources, including the following. 

  • Texting HOME to 741741 for 24/7 support from the Crisis Text Line.
  • Calling the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 800-950-6264, which is staffed by volunteers who have mental health conditions.
  • Reaching out to Warm Lines, which also provide peer support on a local level.
  • Calling the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
  • Using the Disaster Distress helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or texting TalkWithUs at 66746.
  • Click here to read more KVC blogs about suicide prevention.

And as always, KVC Hospitals is here to help you navigate any mental health needs your child may face. We have children’s psychiatric hospitals and/or residential treatment facilities in Wichita, Kansas City, and Hays, KS and our sister organization, KVC Niles, is in Kansas City, MO. We are available by phone 24/7 to answer any questions you have or to begin the admission process.

Call us at (913) 890-7468

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