Dial 988: Nationwide Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

July 15, 2024

Read More: Mental Health Disorders Have Spiked 25 Percent

Suicide is preventable – and it takes all of us to make it a key priority for our patients, co-workers and communities.

You can dial 988 for help. The three-digit number for voice (multiple languages), text or chat (English only) connects people to the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, where compassionate, accessible care and support are available for anyone experiencing mental health–related distress.

The chat feature will be available through Lifeline’s website. Through 988, the network of local crisis centers throughout the country will increase the accessibility and use of life-saving interventions and resources.

People can use 988 if they are having thoughts of suicide, mental health or substance use crises, or any other kind of emotional distress. People can also dial 988 if they are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support.

If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, please talk to someone. Right now - you can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.

988 Fast Facts

  • 988 will be confidential, free and available 24/7/365, connecting those experiencing a mental health, substance abuse or suicidal crisis with trained crisis counselors.
  • Access is available through every land line, cell phone and voice-over internet device in the United States.
  • 988 call services will be available in Spanish, along with interpretation services in more than 150 languages.
Dial_988_SocialMedia_MediaRelations_SuicideHelp Most people will experience behavioral and mental health issues – such as depression, anxiety or grief – at some point in their lives. There shouldn’t be any stigma in asking for help.
988-horizontal-white-black If you or someone you know needs support now, call or text 988.
Mercy doctor's coat The four states Mercy primarily serves (Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma) have among the 15 highest suicide rates in the country, according to the CDC.

Mercy's Zero Suicide Initiative

Last year, more than 40,000 Mercy co-workers completed a Zero Suicide Initiative education course. It wasn’t done because of any outside demands or requirements, but because of a commitment to the dignity of every person Mercy serves.

“There are no government directives or other rules around organizations or companies doing something proactive to decrease suicides,” said Dr. Douglas Walker, an internationally renowned Mercy clinical psychologist based in New Orleans who serves in an outreach role for Mercy. “It’s not something somebody is telling us we have to do. Mercy is making zero suicides a goal because we can save lives by spotlighting behavioral health issues. It has never been more critical, with suicide deaths rising in many of our states. Behavioral health should be treated no differently than any other physical health issue. It’s a major part of a person’s overall health even though some symptoms can’t be seen visually.”

Dr. Walker, who has taught or lectured in 23 countries around the world, began the effort of establishing Mercy as a Zero Suicide Initiative organization simply by asking, “What are we doing to prevent suicide?” in a 2018 Mercy Behavioral Health Specialty Council meeting. At that point, he was assigned to create a subcommittee on the topic and set out on the aspirational goal.

That led to work with the Zero Suicide Institute, a division of the Educational Development Center, a global nonprofit that works to improve education, promote health and expand economic opportunity. Founded in 1958, the group has worked on behavioral health programs in 80 countries around the world.

Suicide rates actually dropped nationwide in 2020 after a nearly two-decade increase. While that is the most recent year for which data has been validated, many experts anticipate the 2021 rate could spike as the continued stress of the COVID-19 pandemic stretched well into the year, peaking in a deadly summer of Delta variant cases and deaths.  

Despite the nationwide drop, suicide rates increased in three of the four states where Mercy primarily serves, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

Arkansas – +5.7%
Kansas – +1.4%
Missouri – +0%
Oklahoma – +6.4%

All four states were within the 15 highest suicide rates in the country, and the overall rate among them is nearly 36% higher than the national average, according to the same CDC data. Nationwide, suicide was the second-leading cause of death in 2020 in people ages 10-14 and 25-34. Given those alarming numbers, Mercy is refocusing efforts on prevention with both patient care and education for co-workers. 

Kirsten Sierra is Mercy’s Zero Suicide coordinator and chairs the suicide subcommittee Dr. Walker founded. Her position is based in Mercy’s quality and safety department, where suicide prevention is thought of no differently than infection prevention or other patient safety measures. 

With patients, the challenge is making sure they’re prepared once they leave Mercy’s care, because suicide risk is volatile and suicidal thoughts can be invasive.

“We want people to know what to do and what to watch for when they leave our facilities,” Sierra said. “When you screen someone, you’re screening them at one point in time. Suicide risk fluctuates, often rapidly. So with a plan in hand, people are prepared and not caught off guard when their mood rollercoasters or hits a low. First, we show them how to help themselves, and second, how to reach out for help if things go off the tracks and they are in crisis again. We give them an action plan they can put in motion on their own. It gives them some sense of independence to know what to do.”