The new 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline will help save lives

About seven or eight years ago, I went through a bad bout of depression. I remember sobbing in my living room in my apartment by myself. I wasn't thinking about my future. I wasn't thinking about the people who loved me. All I could think was, "I just want the pain to stop." 

Although I wasn't in my right mind, thankfully I had a brief flash of clarity when I realized, "I need help." Since I am active in the mental health community, I had a crisis line volunteer's phone number programmed in my phone. And I called her.

She was the one who talked me off the ledge. She was the one who validated my feelings and reminded me, "These feelings will pass. It may not feel like it now, but things will get better." And obviously things did get better, but, at the time, I couldn't see past that moment until someone who was trained and knew the exact right thing to say helped me through it. 

When you're considering suicide, you don't have time to make an appointment with your psychiatrist or counselor. When you're considering suicide, it's all-consuming and you probably don't have the critical thinking capabilities to sit there and research resources. When you're considering suicide, you need help immediately! And most people don't have the luxury of an expert's cell number, programmed into your phone, like I did.

That's why having a quick, accessible, easy-to-remember resource can mean the difference between life and death. So, the fact that, as of July 16, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has its own three-digit number — 988 — is huge for the mental health community. 

When someone is in the middle of a crisis, chances are they won't remember the Lifeline’s previous number at 1-800-273-8255 (although calling that number will still get you to the same services). But, if you have even a second of lucid thought in the middle of your suicidal ideations, you will likely remember 988 — which will hopefully become just as engrained in our brains as "911." 

When you call or text 988, you will be connected with a counselor from a Lifeline crisis center who will listen, work to understand the problem, provide support and share resources that may be helpful.

“This is one of the most exciting things that has happened (in mental health care)," Dr. Brian Hepburn, a psychiatrist who heads the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, told the Associated Press

With this change to a three-digit number, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration expects calls to more than double within the next year. So the lifeline is in need of more counselors and volunteers to help with their mission. For those interested, visit SAMHSA’s 988 jobs page

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