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988 – The most important number to know

NOTE: The topic of this article is suicide and suicide prevention. This topic may be difficult for some readers.


Crisis and suicidal thoughts may be a concern for people in benzodiazepine withdrawal, with long-term symptoms after tapering or BIND (benzodiazepine-induced neurological dysfunction)? Just listen to people on support groups and hear the frustration and struggle in their stories.

It comes as no surprise that for some, the day-to-day can feel like too much.


But, I also know that if someone in crisis can just hold off for a day, or even an hour, a bit of relief, hope, or even a momentary respite helps. Here is why the “988” number is so important.


By dialing these three numbers on the phone, anyone who is having a crisis or is suicidal can reach help through the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Help is available 24/7 and it is free and confidential.


There are several ways to reach this help:

  • Dial 988 on the phone

  • Enter 988 in a browser and be connected to a chat or call

  • Text “Help” to 988

  • Text “Ayuda” in Spanish to 988

  • Veterans text 838255 to Veterans Crisis Line

  • Lifeline options are also available for deaf and hard of hearing

Calling 988 also provides support for those concerned about a loved one or friend (more resources at https://988lifeline.org/help-someone-else/).


The Lifeline provides support to professionals as well when they call 988 (more resources for professionals at https://988lifeline.org/professional-initiatives/).


More about the Lifeline


The Lifeline provides support for many types of situations:


PRESS 1 - Callers who follow the “press 1” prompt are connected to the Veterans Crisis Line.


PRESS 2 - A Spanish Language line is available by pressing 2 when calling 9-8-8, and more than 240 languages are supported through a tele-interpreters service.


PRESS 3 - Callers also have the option of following a “press 3” prompt to be connected to a counselor specifically trained in supporting LGBTQI+ callers.


In all situations, a trained crisis counselor answers the phone. This person listens to the caller, works to understand what the caller is experiencing, provides support, and collaborates with the caller on ways to feel better and connect with any needed help or resources.


What is the Lifeline?

The Federal Government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) supports the Lifeline, made up of a network of over 200 independently owned and operated local centers.


The Lifeline network is designed to connect callers with local crisis centers by using a phone system that routes calls based on the caller’s phone number. In this network of centers, staff are trained and prepared to deal with people in crisis and those who may also be suicidal.


Numerous studies have shown that callers feel less suicidal, less depressed, less overwhelmed and more hopeful after speaking with a 988 Lifeline counselor.


Straightforward talk to start the conversation


The people at the Lifeline recognize that when someone is struggling and in crisis, they may have trouble thinking or even beginning a conversation. These individuals often prepare pre-written messages to start the conversation with a trusted contact.


The messages are as straight-forward as:

When you get a chance can you contact me? I feel really alone and suicidal, and could use some support.
I don’t want to die, but I don't know how to live. Talking with you may help me feel safe. Are you free to talk?
This is really hard for me to say but I’m having painful thoughts and it might help to talk. Are you free?

People call to talk about lots of things: substance abuse, economic worries, relationships, sexual identity, getting over abuse, depression, mental and physical illness, and loneliness, to name a few.


Why do I care so much about the Lifeline?


For several years, I was privileged to serve as the Director of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. The Action Alliance is a public/private partnership funded by SAMHSA.

The public sector is represented by the Surgeon General’s office; many US Health and Human Services agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; US Departments of Education, Veteran’s Affairs, and the Defense as well as Congressional leadership.


The private sector is represented by national leaders in communication, entertainment, behavioral health, health systems, policing, finance, ministry, construction, and even national sports leagues. All are concerned about suicide in the United States and come together to develop and implement a national strategy to prevent suicide.


Doing this work highlighted the importance of the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Since its launch in July 2022 through May 2023 (the latest available data), 988 has received almost 5 million contacts, of which nearly 1 million are from the Veteran's Crisis Line—a part of 988—with the rest consisting of 2.6 million calls, over 740,000 chats, and more than 600,000 texts.

All these efforts, organizations, agencies, and leaders recognize that too many people are in crisis and need support. 988 is an easy number to remember, to call, and to reach available, free resources.


Like any support, the ultimate problem does not disappear but suffering, worry, and isolation can be lifted. Sometimes that is just what is needed to get to the next day.


As always, we are interested in hearing your thoughts on this topic.


References


For Informational Purposes Only


All information presented on Easing Anxiety is for informational purposes only, and should never be considered medical or health advice. Withdrawal, tapering, or any change in dosage of benzodiazepines or any other prescription drugs should only be done under the direct supervision of a licensed physician.


This article was written by a living, breathing human.


Please read our site disclaimer for more information.



3 Comments


Unknown member
Aug 26, 2023

Oh really? During a very difficult time I called the hotline as a veteran in need. Guess what happened to my confidentiality! My conversation with the “trained” counselor was PLASTERED all over my health record and I was challenged by my prescriber the very next appointment! No thank you!

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Doryn Chervin
Doryn Chervin
Aug 26, 2023
Replying to

Oh I am so sorry that happened to you. How frustrated you must have felt! I am hoping that the system promises are now being kept. When I was with the Action Alliance I know that they were working very hard to make the system work well for all consumers.

Wishing you only the best.

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D E Foster
D E Foster
Aug 25, 2023

Thank you, Doryn. This is such an important topic to address and I'm glad you have volunteered to write about it. For individuals coping with severe anxiety and/or BIND, suicidal ideation can be an unwelcome surprise. Thankfully, there are several amazing resources available to help. Take care all, D

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