Mental Health has been gaining a lot of deserved attention this summer, beginning with the change in the way Americans are able to contact health services.
Now any person in need of mental health assistance is able to dial 9-8-8, and receive help based on their area and zip code. The new 3-digit number design was chosen in an effort to be easier to remember and share with others. It is the hope that, much like 9-1-1, it will be easier for people to use and ask for help when needed.
While suicide is under the umbrella of mental health, and not necessarily the reason for the 988 hotline’s creation, consider the following statistics from 2020:
- According to the Centers for Disease Control, 45,979 people in the United States died by suicide in 2020.
- That breaks down to an average of one person every 11 minutes.
- Additionally, 12.2 million adults thought about suicide, 3.2 million adults planned to die by suicide, and 1.2 million adults attempted suicide.
- Furthermore, Veterans are more at risk and have an adjusted suicide rate that is 52.3% greater than the non-veteran US adult population. People who have previously served in the military account for about 13.7% of suicides among adults in the United States.
The 988 hotline was not created based on these facts alone, but it will surely help with both veterans and civilians thinking about suicide. Hopefully this will give a safe and easy to remember support system for those who need it, and point people in the right direction to receive help.
No intention of replacement
This new creation has not been designed to replace the networks and services that have already been in place in the US. Rather, the 988 hotline was created to make a new and easier way to access the network.
If a veteran calls 9-8-8, they have the additional option of being connected to the Veteran’s Crisis Line instead of a local crisis center. The Veteran’s Crisis Line is a free, confidential and secure resource for military members and veterans. The Veteran’s Crisis Line number – 1-800-273-8255 – will still work, should anyone want to direct dial.
There are other great benefits to the 988 hotline: by calling 9-8-8 instead of 9-1-1 when a behavioral health or mental crisis may not be life-threatening, it sends the correct help needed. In other words, the response provided by public services, such as law enforcement and EMS, can be reserved for life-threatening emergencies requiring their assistance. The help provided by the 988 hotline will then be specialized in mental health and will likely allow for a faster response time. Mental health services and will be activated right away, rather than needing to explain that the situation is not immediately life-threatening and go through more channels before the correct help is en route.
“We have a three-digit number for medical emergencies; we need a three-digit number for psychological emergencies — and that’s what this is,” said John Draper, executive director for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
It is very nice to see the US taking steps to support mental health. This hotline could offer help to veterans in a much less intimidating way. The stigma behind asking for assistance with mental health will be difficult to combat. However, with this simple change in the way we ask for assistance could begin a start to make things less taboo and more straightforward.