This column contains a discussion of suicide. If you or someone you know is having a behavioral health crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 988 or 1-800-273-8255/TALK (1-888-628-9454 for Spanish speakers) .
Once I called a suicide hotline on behalf of a friend. We had talked about some of the heaviest times of our lives, and I was growing increasingly worried by some of the thoughts she was expressing.
There was a time when I might have swept away my worries. But at this point in my life, I had already lost a good friend to suicide, something i already wrote.
I no longer take those risks. I asked her point-blank if she was thinking about it, and when she didn’t answer immediately, I called the hotline.
They were fantastic. They advised a way forward that made sense. As I was following their advice, my friend resurfaced. We talked about it and she thanked me for calling her.
Everything resolved neatly packaged and still happy? Life doesn’t work that way. But we got through this moment to the next. It’s more than something. It is enormous.
The hotline number at the time was long and not easy to remember, but what a great resource to have on hand, I thought.
Now we only have to press three numbers to reach someone to talk to: 988.
Yesterday marked the last day of National Suicide Prevention Week.
Earlier this year, the United States took a big step forward in suicide prevention with the nationwide deployment of the 988 suicide hotline.
Proponents say the new number is as easy to remember as 911 and will benefit that emergency system by redirecting many of the crisis calls that now come to 911, but would be better handled by mental health professionals than by law enforcement.
“In the event of a suicide or a mental health crisis, seconds count,” said Jennifer Snow, national director of government affairs, policy and advocacy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), after the deployment.
At the time, the alliance released a poll that found 77% of American adults had never heard of the 988 service, which was previously a 10-digit number (800-273-8255) that remains active.
This percentage has probably improved since then, but we can all spread the new figure with little effort. These conversations don’t have to be heavy. “Hey, did you see they’ve launched a 988 suicide hotline? It works like 911, and they connect you with emergency mental health services and support.”
Discuss it with a neighbor. Post it on your social networks. Tell your children.
That’s all it takes to push the number further into traffic and into our collective consciousness, into the same space that 911 resides so effectively.
Ohioans also need to watch out for another hotline issue.
Ohio has the money to keep the network running until next summer, but the initial capital runs out on June 30, 2023. The legislature must find a permanent way to keep it funded and operational after that date.
Many other states are in similar positions, and suicide prevention advocates warn that any disruption in service could have serious consequences.
Ohio advocates say they’re working with lawmakers to resolve the issue, and we can hope the process goes smoothly, that suicide prevention doesn’t somehow become a political hot potato like so many do. Other problems.
It’s hard to imagine how helpline support could get bogged down in politics, but history shows us that mental health services often struggle to find funding and are understaffed.
Bureaucracies also have a way of burying even reasonable legislation in committee. For proof of this, ask any emergency responder to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks what it was like when Congress let the reauthorization of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund languish.
This hotline is too valuable to waste. We cannot let the calls for help from our fellow Ohioans go unanswered.
In addition to the National Helpline, anyone facing a behavioral health crisis can reach the Ohio Crisis Text Line 24/7 by texting 4HOPE at 741741, or calling the Franklin County Suicide Prevention Hotline at 614-221-5445 or the Teen Suicide Prevention Hotline at 614-294-3300.
Theodore Decker is the columnist for Metro Dispatch.