HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. (AFNS) —
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline hotline is launching a new quick-dial option nationwide starting July 16.
Anyone located within the United States can call or text 9-8-8 any time of day, seven days a week to receive support for suicidal, mental health, and substance use crisis. The line will connect callers to trained crisis counselors.
People can also call or text 9-8-8 if worried about a loved one who may need crisis support.
“What we want to do is make it as easy as possible for someone to reach help when they need it,” said Colleen Carr, director of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, in a 2022 interview. “It’s not a new network being established. It’s a new way to access that network in a way that’s easier to remember.”
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, callers will be routed to a local crisis center based on their area code. A local, trained counselor will listen, provide support and share resources, if needed. If there is no one available at a local crisis center, the caller will be re-routed to a national center for assistance.
If needed, the counselor on the call can activate a local mobile mental health crisis team to be dispatched to the caller to provide therapeutic interventions and make referrals for outpatient services or transportation for further evaluation, according to SAMHSA.
In the U.S., 45,979 people died by suicide in 2020. That is an average of one person every 11 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Additionally, 12.2 million adults thought about suicide, 3.2 million adults planned to die by suicide, and 1.2 million adults attempted suicide.
The creation of 9-8-8 not only helps everyone living in America, but it also has the potential to make a significant impact on the active military and veteran community.
“These mental health professionals are trained on helping the military population and addressing the unique issues they encounter,” said Kristin Wright, violence prevention integrator and suicide prevention program manager at Hanscom Air Force Base. “Veterans, service members and military families face distinctive challenges in multiple aspects of their lives.”
If a veteran calls 9-8-8, they have the additional option of being connected to the Veteran’s Crisis Line instead of a local crisis center. The Veteran’s Crisis Line is a free, confidential and secure resource for military members and veterans. Veteran suicide accounted for 6,261 suicides in 2019, which represented 13.7% of suicides among U.S. adults that year, according to data from the Veteran’s Administration.
Nearly 600 members of the military, among active duty, reserves and National Guard, died by suicide in 2020 according to data provided in the annual suicide report from the Department of Defense. The report also shows 202 military family members died by suicide in 2019.
“The findings are troubling. Suicide rates among our service members and military families are still too high, and the trends are not going in the right direction,” said Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in a statement in September 2021.
By calling 9-8-8 instead of 9-1-1 when a behavioral health or mental crisis may not be life-threatening, the response provided by public services, such as law enforcement and EMS, can be reserved for life-threatening emergencies requiring their assistance.
“We have a three-digit number for medical emergencies; we need a three-digit number for psychological emergencies — and that’s what this is,” said John Draper, executive director for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in a 2022 interview.
The Federal Communication Commission is requiring all phone service providers in the U.S. to direct 9-8-8 calls and texts to the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by July 16. However, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline number, 1-800-273-8255 will not go away. People will still receive the same services whether dialing 9-8-8 or 1-800-273-8255.
The new 9-8-8 quick-dial came about after the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2020.
“It can be taxing to remember the digits in a 1-800 number, especially during a crisis, but remembering a three-digit number is a simpler solution for everyone. The 9-8-8 rollout allows any individual to receive assistance for not only suicidal ideation and prevention, but for substance use and other mental health crises. It is the beginning of making mental health a priority and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health in our country,” Wright said.
If you are thinking about harming yourself or attempting suicide, tell someone who can help right away. Call your doctor’s office, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or 9-1-1 for emergency services, or go to the nearest hospital emergency room.