What Happens When You Contact 988 About Suicide?

You can call or text 988 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to reach free, live support if you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide, a mental health or substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress.

The Lifeline has been around since 2005 at (800) 273-8255 (TALK), and you can still reach it any time at that number. The 988 number, which debuted in July 2022,  just makes it easier to remember and dial.

If you call 988, you’ll first hear a greeting message that will give you options to connect to the Veterans Crisis Line, access help in Spanish, or remain on the line while your call is routed to your local Lifeline network crisis center. This is based on your area code.

If your local crisis center is unable to answer, your call will go to another Lifeline center. More than 210 independent, locally owned and operated crisis centers work in the Lifeline network, and there are plans to expand and improve the network with the launch of 988.

Once your call is routed, a trained counselor will answer the phone. They will listen, provide support, and share resources if needed. Their main goal is to support you in your moment of distress.

If they feel you are in danger, the counselor may discuss connecting you to local emergency services like 911, but first they will do everything they can to help you with a less invasive plan to keep you safe. Fewer than 2% of Lifeline calls involve local emergency services, and more than half of those are with the caller’s consent.

If you prefer to chat with a counselor on a computer, go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chatThe Lifeline has provided online chat services since 2013 and added Spanish-language text and chat services this year.

Before you begin the chat, you’ll be asked to fill out a quick survey to share a little bit about yourself, your main struggle, and how you’re feeling. This will help your counselor best support you from the start of your conversation. You’ll see a message while you wait for a crisis counselor to join your chat.

A counselor will answer your chat as soon as one is available. They will ask you questions about your safety, feelings, social situation, and if you have any thoughts of suicide. If needed, the chat counselor will work with you to create a safety plan or contact local emergency services.

If there is a long wait to chat with someone, you’ll get a message to let you know. While you wait, you can check out online resources from the Lifeline, which are linked on the chat webpage, or call 988 to speak with someone right away. The chat’s busiest times are between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. Eastern

You can also text 988 from your cell phone. A counselor from a Lifeline crisis center will respond. They may or may not be local. In the next few years, texting service will grow to include more local crisis centers.

No matter how you access 988, the goal is to help ease your stress and give you tools to make healthy choices.

988 isn’t just for suicide concerns. It’s also a resource for anyone who is going through a crisis related to substance use or mental health, and anyone worried about a loved one who may need support.

“Anyone who is depressed, going through a hard time, needs to talk, or is thinking about suicide” can contact 988, according to the Lifeline’s website. The website states that counselors “are here to listen and support you through whatever difficult times you may be facing.”

Any time you reach out to 988, your calls, texts and chats will be confidential. This means that your information will not be shared without your consent unless your or someone else’s safety is in immediate danger. 

Your chats with 988 are secured with the same data protection standards that major financial institutions use. Anything you type to a counselor is encrypted from your computer to theirs.

You don’t need to provide any personal information in order to use 988. Anytime someone asks you for personal data, it will only be used to connect you to ongoing support or to help Lifeline improve its services. Your information will never be sold.

The U.S. government funds 988 and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, making it free for anyone to use. Your phone company may charge you standard rates for texts and calls.

In the first full year since 988 launched its three-digit call and text number, counselors answered nearly 5 million calls, texts, and online chats. That’s up by almost  2 million from the year before. The number of calls went up by 46%, chats by 141%, and texts by 1,135%.

The federal government put nearly $1 billion into strengthening and expanding the Lifeline network during the transition to 988. Most of the money went to states and territories to improve their local response as calls and messages increased.

The nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation analyzed the Lifeline’s data and found that overall response did improve, with more calls, texts, and chats being answered and people waiting less time for a response.

Overall answer rates went up from 70% in May 2022 to 93% in May 2023. The average wait time went from 2 minutes and 39 seconds before the launch of 988 to 41 seconds in August 2023.

Soon 988 will include a videophone option for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

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