”Are you in a health emergency or serious danger? If you live in the European Union, please dial 112. If you live in the United States of America, please dial 911. We will do everything in our power to help you. Anywhere, anytime.“
Emergency hotlines are common all over the world. They allow people to ask for professional help in all kinds of emergencies with just a few keystrokes. Now it is also possible for citizens of the United States to dial 988 in a very specific emergency. But who will pick up the phone?
WHAT IS IT?
Since July 2022, in addition to the famous emergency number 911, the three-digit number 988 has been available around the clock in the USA. Dialing this number will reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. As the name suggests, it can be called by anyone who is in a mental crisis or even struggling with suicidal thoughts. Those who call, text, or chat 988 will get in touch with Lifeline counselors who are trained in crisis intervention. The counselors will listen to them, understand how their problems are affecting them, provide support, and connect them with resources if needed.
WHY IS IT COOL?
Even though 911 is a number for every emergency, it is not the first number that comes to mind for people in a mental crisis. Before 988 was introduced, people in a bad mental state had to find one of many counseling numbers online. Not only does this take a lot of time and is inconvenient, but it also doesn’t do justice to the distress of the situation.
The number 988 does one thing decisively different. It is easy and above all very intuitive to dial due to its composition of only three digits. Furthermore, the installation of a three-digit number shows victims that the seriousness of their situation is recognized, since such numbers are otherwise only used by other extremely important state institutions, like the police.
And the switch to 988 is having an effect. A 38% increase in calls answered, a 289% increase in chats answered, and a 1227% increase in texts answered were recorded in November 2022 compared to November 2021 by the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. (SAMHSA, 2022) In addition, the average waiting times for a response also decreased significantly compared to the previous year.
WHY DOES IT HAVE FUTURE GROWTH POTENTIAL?
People who experience suicidal crisis or mental health-related distress are often left without the support and care they need. By introducing the 988, affected people are shown that they are not left alone and can get help whenever they need it. A further spread of awareness about this number may contribute to the social recognition of mental illness and its significance. It has the potential to open the uncomfortable conversation about suicide, and that’s important.
Suicide is a leading cause of death among people aged 10-34 in the United States, with one death by suicide every 11 minutes in 2020. When people realize that there is no shame in talking about depression and mental illness and that they can get serious, free help from professionals, the number of suicide cases could decrease heavily. And in this goal, the new pastoral care number is an important building block. While initial successes have already been measured, it remains to be seen what effect nine-eight-eight will have on suicide rates in the United States.
What do you think about 988? Should such a number also be introduced in the EU? Share your thoughts below in the comments.