988 Suicide Hotline Will Go Live This Year

Feb 2022

But many states aren’t ready for the rollout

A 13-year-old girl is using her smartphone in the dark room. The content she is browsing projects in front of her.

This year, we will see an important development in the fight to prevent deaths by suicide. In July 2022, 988 will go live as the shortcut to call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The hope is that the 988 shortcut for the suicide hotline will become as well-known as the 911 shortcut for emergency services, leading to more calls, quicker crisis response, and ultimately, fewer deaths.

The problem is that most states have not ramped up their call center and crisis response capacity to match the expected increase in calls. Only four states have passed implementation laws that include fee measures to pay for the increase in calls. Just six states are prepared with statewide crisis services, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI).

Most suicides are preventable, and most people who are at risk seek help

Despite persistent myths to the contrary, the evidence says that most suicides are preventable. The suicidal impulse is an acute, transient experience that can and usually does pass if delayed.

Another myth is that people who die by suicide were unwilling to seek help. In fact, studies have shown that more than half of people who died by suicide sought help in the six months prior to their deaths.

The key is to have the right interventions in place, and that’s why suicide lifelines are vital. Lifelines allow people at risk of suicide to speak with a trained crisis worker who can listen empathetically, provide emotional support, and recommend other resources. This is especially vital for people in underserved communities with few other options.

Immediate intervention is key when someone is at risk of suicide

When 988 becomes available, people at risk of suicide will be just three digits away from support. It’s an important improvement because the task of looking up a 10-digit phone number could be enough to deter someone from calling.

However, if states aren’t prepared to handle the increase in call volume, they could trade one problem for another. In states that don’t have robust local centers to handle calls to the suicide lifeline, many calls are routed to a backup center in the nationwide network. “When calls are re-routed to centers out-of-state, callers in crisis often wait two to three times longer, receive fewer linkages to effective local care, and are more likely to abandon their calls,” according to a Lifeline report.

Much more needs to be done to enhance the lifelines. In addition to hiring enough staff to answer all their calls, states need to offer chat and text messaging capabilities and geo-location functionality so that people with out-of-state phone numbers are still routed to call centers in the states where they are physically located.

More broadly, greater investment is needed in other mental health services – outpatient care, inpatient treatment, therapy, safety planning, monitoring, and so on – as part of the overall suicide care continuum. Suicide hotlines play a vital role, but other services need to be ramped up as well so that hotline workers can refer callers to those services as needed. It does a caller little good if they need inpatient care but there are no inpatient beds available.

Legal help is available for victims’ families

This investment in prevention is needed because far too many lives are cut short by preventable suicides. The Law Offices of Skip Simpson has the experience and knowledge to investigate the circumstances of suicide and advise families on how to proceed during an extraordinarily difficult time. Although our law firm is based in Texas, we serve clients nationwide. If you have lost a loved one to suicide completion, contact attorney Skip Simpson today.

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