New urgency to make national suicide prevention hotline 3-digits

Posted at 10:16 AM, Jun 09, 2020

As the nation struggles to get a handle on the novel coronavirus pandemic and confronts the issues of police reform and systemic racism, some of the country’s mental health hotlines are seeing a growing number of calls.

“We have seen an exponential increase in the demand for mental health services,” said Kimberly Williams, with Vibrant Emotional Health.

A recent survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that nearly half, approximately 45 percent, of American adults said their mental health has been negatively impacted by the coronavirus.

Yet, mental health hotlines are 10-digits long, can be hard to remember and impede access to immediate help.

“I say the road to seeking mental health services is paved in Swiss cheese,” said Becky Stoll of Centerstone, which focuses on behavioral health services. “And if you don't know how to get yourself around some of those holes, it's tough.”

One solution is to make the National Suicide Prevention hotline a simple, three-digit number: 988.

Late last year, the Federal Communications Commission recommended the number become a national crisis hotline.

“It's just going to be transformative, if we can get it done,” Stoll said.

It’s an effort that’s slowly gaining traction on Capitol Hill because of COVID-19.

A recent letter, signed by a bi-partisan group of Senate and House members, calls for any future coronavirus-related stimulus bill to include funding for 988. Congress could take up another stimulus bill later this summer.

“988 would essentially destigmatize mental health and suicide by promoting easily accessible, help-seeking behavior and ultimately save lives,” Williams said.

This, as lives around the nation continues to be impacted by tumultuous events and a pandemic, with no vaccine available yet.

“We don't know how long it's going to go,” Stoll said. “So, I think we're going to see more and more people, who've not [had] access behavioral health services in the past, need to do that.”

If you are suffering from mental health distress or need counseling, there are several numbers you can call for help.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 or text ‘HOME’ to 741741

The Disaster Distress Helpline, for calls related to COVID-19: 1-800-985-5990, or text TalkWithUs to 66746

The Veterans Crisis Line, for veterans in crisis: 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 or text 838255.

The TrevorLifeline, for those who identify as part of the LGBTQ community: 1-866-488-7386 or text START to 678-678

For Frontline workers who have emotional or mental health needs: text FRONTLINE to 741741

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