07/23/2024

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Beginning July 16, people across the U.S. will be able to call a new mental health hotline at 988, which connects callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The Lifeline’s current number, 1-800-273-8255, will remain active and available to people in crisis when the new three-digit number is introduced.

Similar to the way people call 911 in any emergency, 988 will serve as an easily accessible hotline for people suffering from a mental health crisis. Two years ago, five leaders of the Federal Communications Commission voted to make 988 a three-digit number that would connect callers to trained Lifeline professionals across the country.

Related: Surgeon General Warns of ‘Devastating’ Youth Mental Health Crisis as Depression and Suicide Rates Rise

The change comes in response to an increase in the global mental health crisis, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the nation’s opioid crisis. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), suicide rates have been steadily increasing over the past two decades.

According to the NIMH, suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States for people aged 10 to 34 and the fourth leading cause of death for people aged 35 to 44.

In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Matthew Wintersteen, a clinical psychologist at Thomas Jefferson University, explained that the new 988 number will be easier to remember and therefore more helpful than Lifeline’s current 10-digit phone number. “When someone is in a crisis, they need to be able to easily access, who do I call? Where can I go? The idea is that 988 will be that number,” Wintersteen said.

Related: National legend Naomi Judd dies by suicide after long struggle with mental health: sources

Recent suicides by celebrities such as Naomi Judd, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have also opened America’s eyes to the reality of the current mental health epidemic. According to John Draper, director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, calls to suicide hotlines increased by 25 percent in the week following the suicides of Spade and Bourdain.

Celebrities such as Lizzo and Demi Lovato have also opened up about their mental health struggles in hopes of reducing the stigma surrounding the topic. Just last month, Selena Gomez, who suffers from bipolar disorder, joined Dr. Jill Biden at the White House to address the youth mental health crisis at the inaugural Mental Health Youth Action Forum.

Gomez said at the forum, “This is a topic that should be talked about freely and without shame.”

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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