On July 16, the hotline for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will change to a simple, easy-to-remember three-digit number (988). As part of this change, volunteers will be trained to support LGBTQ+ callers, who are four times more likely to contemplate suicide than their cis-het counterparts.
The current number is 1-800-273-8255 (or, 800-273-TALK), which is so difficult to remember that the rapper Logic famously made it the title of his song on suicide awareness. The switch to 988 comes as the result of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which was passed with bipartisan support in October 2020. The act mandates the provision of specialized services for the LGBTQ+ community.
In a statement to The Advocate, Preston Mitchum—director of advocacy and government affairs for the Trevor Project—praised the switch. “The launch of 988 is a watershed moment for transforming our country’s crisis care system, providing an opportunity for safe, accessible, equitable care – supported by local mobile crisis teams,” Mitchum said. “This will hopefully make accessing mental health crisis services easier for those in need, and we are thrilled to see this finally come to fruition after years of work from mental health advocates and organizations across the country.”
While the shortened number (along with its similarity to 911) will make it easier for at-risk people to remember and call the number, that is also the challenge with implementing this change. It is very likely that the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will see a drastic increase in call volume, and even after two years of preparation, it is doubtful most centers will have the funds and infrastructure to handle it.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline was created in 2004, and it is a network of over 160 crisis centers across the US. Each of these centers receives varying levels of funding, training, and support, and there is concern that this will only be exacerbated in the coming months.
Although the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act was passed by the federal government, funding has been left up to the states. NBC News notes that only four states “have enacted comprehensive funding plans,” with partial legislation pending in 20 other states.
As a result, the 988 Implementation Act has been introduced in the House to ensure a comprehensive rollout, but it has not been passed. Regardless, the 988 emergency number will be implemented on July 16th. Additionally, organizations like the Trevor Project and Trans Lifeline continue to provide suicide prevention resources and counseling, and further support can be found through local LGBTQ+ centers.