People suffering a mental health crisis have a new resource to seek help.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that the new 988 mental health lifeline is now live.
Officially called the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, 988 is designed to provide ready access 24/7 to a trained counselor for those experiencing emotional distress and/or a suicidal crisis.
This new resource could not come at a better time. Suicide ranks as the second leading cause of death among young people. Before COVID-19, suicide ranked among the 10 leading causes of death in the United States. Meanwhile, the stressors and social isolation related to the COVID-19 pandemic have taken an equal toll on mental health as the virus has taken on the physical health of Americans.
There are many risk factors for suicide, including mental disorders, alcohol and substance use disorders, history of trauma or abuse, major physical illness, hopelessness, aggressive tendencies, family history of suicide, and job or financial loss.
Evidence shows that providing support services, talking about suicide, reducing access to self-harm, and following up with loved ones are just some of the actions we can all take to help others. By offering immediate access to counseling for those who may need it, local crisis centers provide invaluable support at critical times and can connect people to local services.
The Lifeline is not new, it is just now simpler to use. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the previous Lifeline number (1-800-273-8255) will always remain available. Over the years, the Lifeline has received more than 23 million calls from people in emotional distress. Total calls to the Lifeline have increased in each of the last three years, and the new 988 Lifeline is expected to further enhance awareness about this vital resource.
Calling the Lifeline is a safer and more effective alternative to calling 911 for a mental health crisis. People calling the 988 Lifeline can expect to speak to a trained counselor working in one of more than 200 local and regional crisis call centers around the U.S. You will not get a busy signal, be put on hold, or have to wait. After an automated greeting, you will be routed to a live person working at the closest crisis center.
For the vast majority of callers, almost 90%, the call is all they need for effective intervention. For the other 10% who need in-person care, Lifeline staff members will connect them with that care and only with the consent of the caller.
More information about the 988 Lifeline can also be accessed on its website at 988lifeline.org.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark, a board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics, works for the Indian Health Service.