The new 988 crisis and suicide lifeline makes reaching out easier.
written by DIANE TARANTINI
IN JULY 2022, the Federal Communications Commission formally designated 988 as a nationwide 3-digit number for mental health crisis and suicide prevention services.
“The 988 crisis line is available by phone, online chat, or text to immediately connect anyone in crisis with a trained crisis counselor,” according to the West Virginia University School of Medicine website. “These counselors help people through the immediate issue, then provide a connection to a local crisis team.” In addition, the 988 crisis line can also help individuals who are not in active crisis find local mental health resources before the need becomes immediate.
In its work with at-risk youth and women throughout West Virginia, the nonprofit organization Libera often encounters people with suicidal ideation or mental health crises, says its founder and director, Karen Haring. “Many don’t know where to turn or don’t have resources in rural areas when they need help,” she says. “The 988 number is going to help those in need remember the number easily and get them connected quickly by text or phone in a crisis, therefore saving lives.”
Importantly, the 988 line’s texting feature provides a new way for youth in distress to reach out, according to Blue Shield of California. “Younger people are more likely to text, and so the medium could really help.”
988 phone workers are trained to listen, provide support, and connect callers to resources. The hotline can also aid family and friends of someone who may be considering suicide.
Prior to the launch of the 3-digit crisis number, callers needed to punch in a 10-digit phone number. Others made their way to local emergency rooms, where they might wait for hours to get care. Now they only need to remember and dial three numbers.
The shorter number, plus the media push surrounding the change, seems to be working. “There’s been a significant increase in the use of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline service since this transition to a three-digit number,” said April Naturale, interim executive director of the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, in a February 2023 ABCNews interview. “We’re really grateful that more people are contacting the line with this change. That was the whole goal.”
With fewer numbers to remember as well as a texting option, the new 988 crisis line may save lives in the Mountain State.
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