The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which you can reach at 1-800-273-8255, will be getting an easier-to-remember number as of July 16. The old number will still work, but after the switch you will also be able to connect with the service by calling 988. (That’s the entire number: it’s a special code like 911.)
The switch comes thanks to the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act. The Act also earmarks funds for specialized services for LGBTQ youth, who have a greater risk of mental health issues and suicide compared to their straight peers. The Washington Post reports that the details of who gets this money and how it will be used are still up in the air, but at least the change in phone number is expected to happen on time.
Depending on where you are, you may already be able to use 988. July 16 is the deadline for all telephone providers to implement the new number.
What happens when you call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline?
First, your call will be routed to one of the 200 crisis centers that make up the network. (They use the area code of the phone you are calling from to connect you to a center that is near you.) If you’d like to hear a preview of the recording and the menu options (1 if you’re a veteran, 2 if you want to talk to somebody who speaks Spanish), there is a guide here that walks you through it.
The lifeline is for more than just suicide—you can call if you’re having a mental health crisis of any kind (although if you’re not in danger and just want someone to talk to, you may actually be looking for a warmline, and you can find warmline numbers here). You can also call if you’re concerned that somebody you know may be thinking about suicide and you need to find ways to help them.
Once your call connects, you will speak with a trained crisis counselor. It’s an open-ended conversation, without a canned script. Their goal is to help you to be safe, and for you to be in control of the whole situation. They may help you come up with a safety plan, or encourage you to reach out to a friend or to other resources that are available to you. They may arrange for a follow-up call later. They may be able to send a counselor to your house, with your consent.
They also may call the police, although they say this is a rare occurrence (“less than 3%” of calls) and is done as a last resort when somebody is imminently about to hurt themselves or others.
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