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Suicide Hotlines Explained

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, and it does not discriminate, which is why suicide prevention hotlines exist.

However, most people don’t understand how suicide hotlines work. Additionally, many people feel ashamed to call one or aren’t sure whether they should call 911 instead.

In this article, we’re going to clear up what constitutes a 911 emergency situation and how suicide hotlines work to keep individuals safe. Read on to learn more.

How Do Suicide Hotlines Work?

Suicide hotlines, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), is a toll-free hotline to call when individuals feel distressed or are thinking about harming themselves.

While suicide is, in fact, an emergency situation, it can often be averted. That’s why these types of hotlines exist. They offer emotional support and give individuals in crisis an outlet to talk to a trained professional. Of course, each situation is different; therefore, no two conversations will be the same.

The most important thing to understand about calling a suicide hotline is that each can connect you to a trained crisis counselor 24/7. Everything remains confidential, and there is no time limit to how long you can speak with a crisis counselor.

However, confidentiality is only given to a certain extent. While crisis counselors are trained in collaborative problem solving, they may call emergency services, without consent, if the individual is threatening to harm themselves. But first, the crisis counselor will do everything in their power to come up with a safety plan to talk the individual down before that happens.

Moreover, suicide hotlines act as the epicenter of mental health resources. They can offer specific emotional support by connecting individuals with an adequately trained counselor for the situation (for example, LGBQT+, veteran support, abuse, etc.). They can refer individuals to more long-term solutions, such as local mental health services.

Regardless of the outcome, when you call a suicide hotline, there will be a trained and caring individual ready to listen to you without judgment. They’ll provide you with the necessary emotional support and mental health resources, and make sure you feel supported, heard, and seen.

You can also call a suicide prevention hotline to learn more about supporting a family member or friend in crisis. The crisis counselors will offer guidance on how to talk to your loved ones, provide mental health resources, and help you develop a step-by-step plan to help the individual in need.

Can You Call 911 for Suicidal Thoughts?

The short answer is yes. You can call 911 if you’re having suicidal thoughts, having a mental health crisis, or witnessing someone experiencing a mental health crisis. However, emergency service protocols are much different compared to those of a suicide prevention hotline.

When you call 911 for a suicide-related emergency, the police and other emergency services are dispatched to perform a wellness check. If you disclose that you’re having suicidal thoughts or there’s reason to believe you will harm yourself, they will bring you to the nearest mental health facility where you’ll be evaluated and possibly hospitalized.

After further evaluation by a mental health professional, you’ll likely be referred to an outpatient or inpatient behavioral therapy program. They’ll also try to involve your support network, i.e., friends and family if possible, and take the time to discuss all your options.

It’s important to note that if you’re witnessing an individual attempting to harm themselves, it’s imperative that you call 911 immediately. If the individual is not actively trying to harm themselves but making threats, calling a suicide prevention hotline should be your first step.

988 Is the New 911 for Mental Health Emergencies

With a 30% increase in national suicide rates, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been pushed to create a special emergency hotline: 988. This new hotline will be available on July 16, 2022.

By dialing 988, individuals in crisis or witnessing someone else in a mental health crisis can call this dedicated hotline to seek emergency help instead of 911. Not only will this new hotline free up 911 emergency services, but it can route individuals to over 100 different crisis centers for a fast response.

A service like this also takes away the stigma of seeking emergency help for mental health emergencies, which will likely decrease the country’s overall suicide rates.

 Every situation involving thoughts of suicide is an emergency, and no individual should feel ashamed of their mental health. If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please don’t hesitate to call a suicide prevention hotline or 988—and in a dire emergency, 911.

If you’re looking for the support of mental health professionals, contact us. We offer a range of professional mental health services at an affordable cost.