Reimagining suicide prevention 

Published 12:15 pm Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Nationwide network of more than 200 crisis centers now accessible by dialing 988


For those who are experiencing suicidal thoughts or are in mental-health distress, help is now a convenient three-digit phone call away. As of Saturday, simply calling or texting 988 will directly connect to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, a nationwide network of more than 200 crisis centers tasked with helping people in their most critical and vulnerable crisis moments.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox


According to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, the U.S. had one death by suicide every 11 minutes in 2020. For people 10-34 years of age, suicide was the leading cause of death.


The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline centers are staffed by a network of local and state mental health professionals as well as those from SAMHSA. The easy-to-remember number will provide compassionate and accessible care and support for anyone experiencing mental health distress, whether it be suicide, substance abuse, or other emotional issues. The 988 Lifeline is also a resource for family members who are worried about a loved one who might need crisis support and may not know where to turn.


Also, for Veterans finding themselves in crisis, pressing “1” after dialing 988 will connect them directly to the Veterans Crisis Lifeline which will provide specialized support for the nation’s Veterans, service members, and National Guard and Reserve members. 


For many people experiencing a mental health crisis, or for family members trying to de-escalate a situation, calling 911 was often the only answer immediately available. Sometimes, these emergency calls have led to unfortunate resolutions. Now, having a trained mental health professional intercede will help diffuse an emotion-filled situation and will hopefully provide more positive outcomes according to health care professionals.  


 “The 988 Lifeline provides a helpful level of triage for those in crisis. By the time I talk to patients [in a hospital setting] they are sensitive, vulnerable and in many cases traumatized,” said Meha Semwal, M.D., MPH., at the UCLA/Greater Los Angeles VA Hospital Psychiatry Residency Program. “Many times patients have been handcuffed when brought to the hospital for assessment. That’s traumatic in itself for the patient.” 


With the 988 Lifeline, the gatekeeper is now a friendly and compassionate professional who is trained to deal with mental health issues and help guide them through the process of getting help said Semwal who shared her personal opinions and not necessarily medical advice or views of her program. She said this helpful level of triage for those in crisis removes a lot of the fear for both patients and/or family members trying to help this potentially volatile situation.


According to SAMHSA, studies have shown that people experiencing a mental health crisis are more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed and more hopeful after speaking with a trained 988 Lifeline crisis counselor.


“I think it’s been a long time coming and now getting the word out about the 988 Lifeline is crucial,” said Semwal.