The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is not just for people struggling with suicidal thoughts, it is also a resource for friends and family members concerned with a loved one who is experiencing suicidal ideation and/or behaviors. The Call Specialist who answers the phone can coach you on how to talk to your loved one, help you identify suicide warning signs and risk factors, and connect you with appropriate resources. Rigorous empirical research conducted at Columbia University has repeatedly shown the effectiveness of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline as a valuable resource for those who directly or indirectly struggle with the issue of suicide.

Encouraging Loved Ones to Call a Suicide Crisis Lifeline:

If you encourage your loved one to call a suicide prevention crisis line, they will likely be very hesitant to do so. This is understandable. It is a difficult, sometimes scary, thing to do. It takes tremendous strength and courage to pick up the phone and make the call – or send the text.

Remind your loved one that the Call Specialist on the other end of the phone understands this, and just wants to listen to whatever is going on in their life that is making them feel overwhelmed, anxious, upset, unhappy, trapped, or suicidal. Whether your friend or family member calls a local crisis line or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Call Specialist will be there to listen and to empathize, not to judge or tell them what they should or shouldn’t do. The call is confidential and anonymous.

Many people who are beginning to experience suicidal ideation also try making a “practice” call, which can help raise confidence. This way they can get their questions answered before they are in a crisis. Remind them that they always control the call. They can hang up and end the call at any time. Having this level of control over the call itself can help to encourage those who might be reluctant.

What Happens When You Call a Suicide Hotline or 988

When someone calls 988 or other suicide prevention crisis hotline, the call will be answered by a volunteer or mental health specialist. While the calls are anonymous, the caller may be asked for a name – this is only to help the conversation be more personal. It’s OK to tell the Call Specialist that you are not comfortable giving your name, or the Caller can simply give an alias, a name to use during the call. The Call Specialist will often give the caller their name, probably an alias as well.

The Caller will be asked a few questions regarding why they are calling the suicide prevention crisis line, such as whether they are considering harming themself, whether they have done so in the past, do they have a specific plan and do they currently have the lethal means (the items they plan to use, such as pills or a firearm) to take their life. The Caller will not be judged by their answers to these questions, the question are just to help the Call Specialist better understand the Caller’s immediate situation. The Caller will not be shamed or blamed for how they are feeling.

Suicide Crisis Lifeline FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions):

Is 988 available for substance abuse?

Yes, 988, the new national suicide prevention lifeline number, is not only for suicide-related emergencies but also provides support for individuals struggling with substance abuse. When you call 988, the Call Specialist will be trained to assist you with substance abuse concerns and can connect you with appropriate resources, treatment options, or local organizations specializing in substance abuse.

What happens when I text 988?

When you text 988, you will be connected to a crisis counselor who can provide support and assistance through text messages. Texting allows for a more discreet and accessible form of communication, particularly for those who may not feel comfortable speaking on the phone. The crisis counselor will engage in a conversation with you, listen to your concerns, and offer guidance, resources, and support as needed.

Do suicide hotlines call the police?

Suicide hotlines prioritize the safety and well-being of individuals in crisis. While each hotline operates differently, generally, hotline operators do not initiate contact with the police or emergency services unless there is an immediate threat to the caller’s life or the life of others. The primary goal of suicide hotlines is to provide emotional support, crisis intervention, and resources to help individuals in distress. Confidentiality is an essential aspect of hotline services, and hotline operators typically respect the caller’s privacy unless there is an imminent risk that requires intervention to ensure safety.

Please note that the policies and practices may vary among different hotlines, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with the specific guidelines and confidentiality policies of the hotline you are contacting.