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The 411 on 988

The 411 on 988

Suicide Prevention Gets A New National Lifeline

As of this summer, anyone struggling with mental health, depression or suicidal thoughts is only three digits away from the help they need, thanks to the new 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

Modeled after the easy-to-remember 911 emergency line, this new lifeline is fully dedicated to immediately connecting callers in mental distress with a trained counselor, who will not only offer help themselves, but can also direct the caller to resources for further care.

“The hope is to make it a seamless point of service,” says Terry Cassidy, executive director of Behavioral Health Services at Sarasota Memorial. “So we can get the caller the care they need, right when they need it, and then follow up by pointing them in the right direction for further care.”



Meeting A Growing Crisis

Since 2005, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline—1-800-273-8255—has existed to provide exactly this sort of aid to those in need.

But according to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide rates have increased dramatically in the last two decades, rising as much as 33%. In 2019, someone committed suicide in the US every 11 minutes, and there were more than twice as many suicides as homicides. It is a leading cause of death for those ages 10 to 35.

Meanwhile, funding for crisis centers has dwindled. And, as recently as 2020, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline reported only having the capacity—and the funding—to address 85% of calls received, 56% of texts received and 30% of online chat requests made.

With the unveiling of a new national lifeline, available 24/7 and staffed by trained counselors, backed by $432 million from the federal government and connected to 200+ crisis centers across the nation, experts hope to make a difference.

Why A New Number?

To answer a question with a question: How many people know the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline off the top of their head?

“The current number is quite a bit to remember in the moment,” says Cassidy, but a three-digit number that mirrors the ubiquitous 911 emergency line is easy to recall, easy to dial and therefore easy to access. “It’s removing one more unnecessary barrier between people in distress and potentially life-saving care,” she says.

And though 911 is easy enough to remember, police officers are not mental health counselors and are not properly trained to de-escalate and deal with mental health crises. “A lot of people have great anxiety about law enforcement knocking at the door,” says Cassidy. Too often the situation ends tragically.

But if someone calls 988, Cassidy continues, they’re only moments away from an expert trained to understand what they’re going through and how to help. “The help they need is only a call away,” she says. “And that’s the most important message to send.”

What About The Old Number

The original 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is still active and can still be called for help. These calls are simply routed to the 988 number.

Doing Our Part

As a leading healthcare provider in the community, Sarasota Memorial is also prepared to do its part in working with the many experts and counselors answering calls and providing services through the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

“And we’ll have a very strong relationship,” says Cassidy.

Through Behavioral Health Services at Sarasota Memorial, certified healthcare professionals are available 24/7 for urgent consults and by appointment during normal business hours.

For a free clinical assessment, call 941-917-7760. In an emergency or crisis, please call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 9-8-8.SMH Copywriter, Phil Lederer

Written by Sarasota Memorial copywriter Philip Lederer, MA, who crafts a variety of external communications for the healthcare system. SMH’s in-house wordsmith, Lederer earned his Master’s degree in Public Administration and Political Philosophy from Morehead State University, KY.

Posted: Aug 16, 2022,
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