This July, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline changed its number. While one previously had to dial or text 1-800-273-TALK, one can now dial 988 24/7 to get in touch with a crisis counselor during a mental health crisis.
But hold the phone – before you call the new number on behalf of yourself or your loved one, it’s important to understand what calling the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline entails, how exactly it works, what potential risks it may pose.
How does the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline work?
When one calls 988, one is eventually connected with a trained counselor at the closest mental health center.
Once one is connected, one can have a conversation about one’s situation, answer questions posed by the counselor on the other line and learn about local available resources. These services may include mobile response teams or suicide prevention centers.
Mental health resources, in general, are severely lacking. What’s more is that often, mental health resources and psychiatric institutions blanket mental health by following a series of protocols that may or may not be helpful to the individuals in their care. Rather than addressing long-term mental health concerns, short-term interventions are made that don’t necessarily address the trauma in which these concerns are rooted.
What does it mean to be trauma-informed, and how can it help?
Trauma-informed care recognizes that trauma has a significant impact on individuals and collectives, and uses this information to provide welcoming and engaging experiences for both providers and recipients of care. It requires that policies, procedures, and practices implement knowledge about trauma and work to resist retraumatization by the program or system in question.
Being trauma-informed means embracing the complexities of each individual and avoiding premature conclusions about both their past and present conditions. This necessitates unraveling trauma from within while helping others to choose meaningful paths forward for themselves.
Unlike traditional mental health programs and resources, trauma-informed care isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Beyond that, it actively works to avoid retraumatization where other approaches may cause it.
Not all care is trauma-informed. At Leda, we’re moving to build brave, trauma-informed solutions, policies, and programs that minimize further harmdoing. Being trauma-informed is an ever-evolving process, and while less prevalent than other mental health practices, it may help to assuage the below risks.
What risks are there in calling 988?
Counselors on the other line of suicide prevention hotlines are at liberty to determine the level of suicide risk based on the information disclosed. As such, it can be difficult to determine whether the risk will be assessed as imminent – and therefore whether intervention will be called.
One thing to keep in mind is that no two conversations on the hotline will be exactly alike. While counselors may be trained, it’s crucial to note that training will vary depending on the counselor’s location. There’s no guarantee that your counselor’s support will be tailored to you if you’re neurodivergent, BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, or disabled. Likewise, because mental health resources may be scarce locally, police officers – who may not have adequate or any mental health training at all – may be sent to respond.
Another concern may be privacy. Despite being touted as “confidential,” it’s the case that calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline are traced – meaning that police intervention is more likely to occur as a result of these calls. It’s been documented that even when imminent risk hasn’t been established, police often arrive to intervene.
What can happen if police get involved?
At face, it can be unclear as to what police intervention will mean. Many times, for one reason or another, it means traumatization. Police aren’t mental health professionals and often resort to involuntary psychiatric treatment as a solution. At worst, deadly shootings have occurred during mental wellness checks.
Involuntary psychiatric treatment, including at a hospital or a mental health facility, can involve “holds” of various lengths, from 72 hours to temporary conservatorships. This form of treatment can actually become rather harmful. Forced treatment can be traumatizing in itself and people who felt coerced into psychiatric treatment were at around 100 times greater risk of suicide after their release, according to a 2017 study. Moreover, the rate of suicide among those discharged after 3 months of psychiatric hold was 15 times the national suicide rate.
Supporting and being supported
If someone you love is experiencing suicidal ideation, one of the most helpful things you can do is be there. You may stay on the phone with them while they go about their day, or sit with them as they discuss their thoughts. Ask them if there’s anything they need from you and make sure they’re as comfortable as possible.
Regardless, it’s important to make sure there’s no pressure on your part for the other person to “get over” how they feel or “get better” overall. Remember that the moment your loved one is experiencing may pass despite its acuteness in the moment, and that someone experiencing suicidal ideation is not at fault for how they’re feeling.
If you're experiencing suicidal ideation, peer support resources (also called "warmlines") are available that may be tailored to fit your needs. All times are listed in Eastern Time.
- Trans Lifeline – call (877) 565-8860, 24/7
- THRIVE – text (313) 662-8209, 24/7
- Promise Resource Network – call (833) 390-7728, 24/7
- Project Return Peer Support Network – call (888) 448-9777 (English) or (888) 448-4055 (Spanish), Monday through Friday, 5:30 PM - 1 AM and Saturday and Sunday, 1 AM - 9 PM
- Wildflower Alliance Peer Support Line – call (888) 407-4515, Monday through Thursday, 7 PM - 9 PM and Friday through Sunday, 7 PM - 10 PM
- Key Consumer Organization – call (800) 933-5397, Monday through Friday, 8 AM - 4:30 PM
- MBRLC Peer Support Line – call (877) 733-7563, any day from 4 PM - 7:45 PM