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 thoughts and/or behaviors. The Call Specialist who answers the phone can coach you on how to talk to your loved one, help you identify 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.
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.
It’s OK to make a “practice” call, if that would help. 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 anytime.
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.