You may have seen harmful social posts being spread stating you should not call 988. These posts are harmful because 1) the information being shared is incorrect and 2) this can deter people from making a potentially lifesaving call.
We have complied an uncomprehensive list of 988 myths in hopes of spreading correct information regarding the suicide and crisis lifeline. Please help us spread awareness.
MYTH: 988 is a new program, replacing the suicide hotline.
988 will not replace the suicide hotline (1-800-273-TALK). In fact, they’re the same thing and you can still call that number. 988 is just an easier way to access the lifeline and provides expanded mental health services.
MYTH: You have to be actively suicidal to call the hotline.
988 exists to prevent suicide, and that prevention happens at every level of a crisis. If you are experiencing substance use, a mental health crisis, or any kind of emotional distress, you can call the lifeline. No problem is too big or too small.
You can also call 988 if you are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support.
MYTH: 988 is a police program.
The national suicide and crisis lifeline is actually administered by a nonprofit, Vibrant Emotional Health, and is not affiliated with the police.
When you call 988, you are automatically routed to your local crisis center. For example, if you call in Kalamazoo, you are routed directly to us here at Gryphon Place where a trained crisis worker answers the phone.
But in order to reduce wait times for callers, if your local crisis center is experiencing a high call volume, your call will be transferred to another center. This ensures callers will receive help when they need it.
MYTH: Calling 988 will automatically dispatch emergency services.
988 is not 911 and calling the lifeline will not dispatch emergency services. 988 was actually created to reduce the amount of police involvement.
We know and understand that emergency rooms are not created for mental health emergencies, and not all police officers are trained for such. The primary goal of the lifeline is to provide support for people in suicidal crisis or mental health distress with workers trained in crisis intervention, without police involvement.
On occasion, there will be an imminent risk to someone’s life that cannot be reduced during a call. In these crucial cases, 911 will be dispatched to save the caller’s life (namely when a suicide attempt is in progress). The second phase of 988 includes dispatching a trained mental health crisis response team instead of the police, but that step is not currently ready for implementation.
Here at Gryphon Place, if we feel a caller is in need of emergency services, we encourage the caller to call 911 themselves. This supports the caller to seek additional help themselves, making them more receptive to accepting help and creating a safety plan.
However, the vast majority of callers seeking help from 988 do not require any additional interventions at that moment. Currently, less than 2% of callers require connection to emergency services.
How do we know if a caller is suicidal? We ask. Most of the time, people don’t want to die, they just don’t see any other options. After determining they are not suicidal, we do not call 911 and begin problem-solving.
You call 911 for a medical emergency, you call 988 for a mental health emergency.
MYTH: 988 does not offer coping tools or provide referrals to local mental resources.
Our trained crisis workers listen to callers with empathy and compassion, understand how their problem is affecting them, provide support, and share resources as necessary. Each call is different, and our crisis workers support accordingly based on each caller’s unique needs.
When someone calls us, we engage them in conversation, talk about what’s going on in their life, what brings them joy, and offer them suggestions.
As stated above (under the 988 is a police program myth), sometimes we get callers who are not local to this area. Due to this, we are not always able to provide specific local resources for further support, but we can recommend general information that can guide nonlocal callers in the right direction.
While 988 is an important step in how our country addresses crisis response, it’s important to know this is just the first step in improving crisis support in our country. 988 may be the first step, but it’s not the last step.