The National Suicide Designation Act of 2020 brought about a redesign of the Suicide and Crisis Hotline. What was once a 10-digit 1-800 number is now a 3-digit number (988) that resembles the national emergency number (911). The 988 number celebrated its 1-year anniversary this past July, and many low-to-no income, undocumented, and queer communities, especially communities of color, are still hesitant to call the number or not familiar with it at all. Many remain unaware of its change and the resources for mental health and substance abuse that this hotline can provide outside of relying on police and law enforcement and emergency rooms.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recognizes that support for 988 and related crisis services is an opportunity to address our nation’s long-standing problem with access to mental health crisis services. In 2021, before the official launch of the new number, (SAMHSA) found through a National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 4.8% of adults ages 18 or older (about 12.3 million people) had serious thoughts of suicide, and among adolescents ages 12 to 17, 12.7% (about 3.3 million people) had serious thoughts of suicide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that in 2021, suicide was the second-leading cause of death for people aged 10–14 and 25–34 years.
The new hotline is supposed to make it easier for callers to connect with help when they or someone they know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, emotional distress, or a substance-use-related crisis. As well as ensure people across the country have someone to talk to a mobile team to respond to them, and a place to go that offers safe and effective diagnosis and treatment even after the call is made. A recent poll from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) finds most Americans (82%) are still not familiar with the 988 hotline. Many communities also assume that calling the hotline, amidst crisis, will cause more harm due to dispatching to police or connecting emergency services that lead to financial challenges and limitations.
The statistics are more devastating for those who identify as LGBTQIA because there is also a risk of being outed or unable to access medical resources due to gender identities that are not reflected on medical records. “If we collectively want to help people in crisis — and save lives — 988 cannot be the best-kept secret. Thankfully, the data show more people are beginning to become aware of this important resource — but not nearly enough,” said NAMI Chief Executive Officer Daniel H. Gillison Jr. in a statement.
The 988 Suicide and Crisis Hotline does not, currently, use geolocation which means that the caller will remain anonymous unless they choose to share information that would identify themselves. For some areas, this hotline also has resources that include mobile crisis teams and stabilizing centers, especially for those experiencing substance-related crises, as an alternative to emergency rooms and to limit encounters with law enforcement. Visit 988 Suicide & Crisis Hotline for more information on this hotline and how it may serve you and your communities.