A new three-digit telephone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will launch on Saturday for people experiencing mental health distress, suicidal thoughts or substance use problems.
The number, 988, will be available 24/7 and also links to the Veterans Crisis Line.
“The 988 number will allow folks to access the existing 10-digit number much easier,” said Rachel Lucynski, director of crisis services at Huntsman Mental Health Institute. “It’s easy to remember and sends the caller straight to the same center as it always has.”
Suicide among youths and adults ages 10-24 is the leading cause of death in Utah, Lucynski said. During the past fiscal year, the Suicide Hotline received 102,000 calls, an 11% increase from the previous year.
“It’s heartbreaking to know there’s that much pain and need in our state,” she said. “But it’s important they know they’re not alone and there’s nothing wrong with them.”
Lucynski said the idea for 988 actually originated in Utah several years ago but didn’t pass through legislation when it was introduced in 2014.
Then, Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, heard about the idea and loved it and helped to make it happen, she said.
“Utah has spent many years preparing for this and we are so grateful,” she said.
The Biden-Harris administration increased federal investments for the service by 18-fold, from $24 million to $432 million, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That total included $105 million in grant funding to states and territories provided by the American Rescue Plan to improve response rates, increase capacity to meet future demand and ensure calls are routed to local, regional or state crisis call centers.
“988 is more than a number, it is a message: We’re there for you,” said Xavier Becerra, U.S. Health and Human Services secretary, during a press conference on Thursday. “There is still much work to do, but what matters is that we’re launching, 988 will be live. We are looking to every governor and every state in the nation to do their part to make this a long-term success.”
Once the 988 call or text is placed, a member of the response team will ask a number of questions to determine their risk factors.
“We will ask how we can support you today and actively listen to folks calling in and understand how they are feeling,” Lucynski said. “We determine what the current level of risk is at that time, do they need immediate help to get to a mental health facility or can we talk with them and get them connected with the proper resources.”
Lucynski said the most important thing about the call is to keep the person on the other line safe. She said because it can be overwhelming to navigate the behavioral health system, callers will receive help in that area as well.
“We will help them find the appropriate help based on their situation, health insurance or lack thereof,” she said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done. We are taking steps to create new programs and looking at long-term strategies to educate and recruit the next generation.”
Lucynski said she hopes the 988 number will encourage people to talk more about mental health issues.
“I would like to see it become more normalized. Mental health affects races, religions, financial status, gender and race,” she said. “It’s not as easy as just snapping out of it. People don’t choose to have these problems. If a person had a broken leg, you wouldn’t tell them to go walk it off. It’s the same thing with the brain. People need help and they won’t get the help they need by ignoring it or pushing it aside.”
Lucynski said if you feel like you are suffering, it’s important to reach out for help. If you suspect someone you know is suffering, ask them if they are OK or if they are thinking about taking their life and help them make the 988 call.
“It’s really scary to talk about suicide, but burying our heads in the sand won’t make it go away,” she said. “Use the new number and visit liveonutah.org for additional help.”
The 10-digit number, 1-800-273-8255, still exists, but 988 is more convenient, Lucynski added.
In addition, Lucynski said, anyone interested in working with the crisis team can apply at employment.utah.edu.