On July 16, 2022, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number transitions to just three digits: 988. As youth suicide rates continue to increase, the goal of the new 988 hotline is to make help more easily accessible in a moment of crisis. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States among ages 15–24.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, across the United States. Launched in 2005, the Lifeline is comprised of a national network of more than 200 local crisis centers, combining local care and resources with national standards and best practices.
The new 988 suicide prevention hotline replaces the 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) number for the Lifeline; however, this number will still work.
Rising Suicide Rates Prompt 988 Implementation Act
National funding for the 988 hotline is part of the Biden administration’s response to the youth mental health crisis. Nearly half of teens in the United States—44 percent—report feeling persistently sad and hopeless. When these young people are not able to access help due to the shortage of mental healthcare providers, or other obstacles to care, depression can escalate into suicidal behavior and attempts. Tragically, research comparing pre-pandemic suicide rates with pandemic period numbers shows an increase in teen suicide in 14 states.
Even before the pandemic began, the youth suicide rate in the United States was the highest in recorded history. According to a CDC report, suicide rates have risen by 35 percent since the start of the 21st century. And the number of teens admitted to children’s hospitals as a result of suicidal thoughts or self-harm has more than doubled during the last decade.
Suicidality is especially prevalent among youth of color—particularly Black and Hispanic males—and other marginalized groups, including LGBTQ youth. Data from the Trevor Project, the nation’s leading suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ youth, shows that 45 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, and nearly 1 in 5 transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide. Previous research from the Trevor Project found that LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers, as a result of factors such as bullying, discrimination, family rejection, and lack of social support.
Funding Bolsters 988 Hotline Capacity Across the Country
In response to these devastating statistics, the 988 hotline is gearing up for a possible surge in calls, with the support of $150 million in federal funding to strengthen crisis call center services. While some states have already developed a high level of call center capacity, others may be challenged by an increase in call volume. Calls that cannot be answered locally will be rerouted to a national line.
Since its founding nearly two decades ago, the suicide prevention hotline has been extremely effective, says Robert Gebbia, chief executive officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. According to Gebbia, 98 percent of calls are de-escalated over the phone with a counselor, and only 2 percent require an emergency dispatch.
Suicide Warning Signs and Actions to Take
Greater awareness of depression symptoms and suicide warning signs can help prevent tragic loss of life. Here are some of the warning signs indicating that an individual is considering suicide:
- Talking or posting on social media about suicide or wanting to die
- Feeling hopeless or trapped
- Increasing use of drugs and/or alcohol
- Changes in weight, appearance, or sleep habits
- Isolating themselves and withdrawing from friends
- Gathering drugs, sharp objects, firearms, or other items that could be used for a suicide attempt or self-harm
- Searching online for methods of committing suicide
- Visiting or calling people to say goodbye, and giving away prized possessions
- Trouble concentrating and/or a drop in academic performance
- Migraines, frequent stomachaches, or other physical complaints
- Risk-taking or self-destructive behavior
- Suddenly becoming calm or cheerful after a long period of depression.
If you see any of these signs, take the following actions:
- Do not leave the person alone.
- Remove anything that could be used in a suicide attempt, including ﬁrearms, alcohol, drugs, razors, or other sharp objects.
- Call the 988 suicide prevention hotline.
- Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.
Accessing Treatment to Heal Depression and Prevent Suicidal Behavior
The 988 suicide hotline is a vital part of the nation’s strategy to prevent loss of life and help people in crisis to access care. However, the ultimate goal is to reduce the number of people who need to make 988 mental health calls—by ensuring that individuals who are struggling with depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance abuse, and other disorders get the treatment they need early on.
To prevent youth suicide and address the youth mental health crisis, we must move from awareness to action and help young people access effective and compassionate care before distress escalates into a suicide attempt. Newport Healthcare is dedicated to helping families, young adults, providers, school professionals, and others who work with youth to take the necessary steps to access care for those who are struggling.
Please reach out to us today to explore how we can serve as a resource for you, your family, or the young people and families you serve.