New National Suicide Prevention Lifeline begins Saturday

988 is expected to double the number of calls, chats and texts to help meet the growing mental health crisis
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By , KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — An easy-to-remember National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number activates on Saturday. The aim of 988 is to improve access to crisis services to meet the growing suicide and mental health crisis in the country.

988 will connect callers in need to a network of trained counselors who can assist them, and further connect them to services or other resources.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) says the transition to the 988 lifeline offers an “unprecedented opportunity to strengthen and transform crisis care in our country.”

“In 2021, the lifeline received 3.6 million calls, chats and texts, which includes over 540,000 calls rooted to the Veterans Crisis Line,” said AFSP Greater Philadelphia Area Director Jamie Cohen.

“That number is expected to double within the first full year of the 988 transition.“

Attic Youth Center interim Executive Director Jasper Liem said the new 988 number is easy to remember and a way to get immediate help in a crisis. His Center City non-profit provides counseling and other services to help LGBTQ youth become healthy and independent individuals.

But Liem explained he has some concerns about the national lifeline, particularly when it comes to trans and gender-diverse youth.

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“I think like any national hotline, it could be hit-or-miss based on who you get on the line, and how confident or well-versed they may be in somebody’s particular cultural background and needs,” Liem said.

“Unfortunately, LGBTQ youth are up to four times more likely to contemplate suicide.”

He said he would like to see an increase in partnerships with LGBTQ-specific organizations.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline partners with the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services and 179 other local organizations around the country to offer services. DBHIDS can route people in need to local groups like Attic Youth Center.

The current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number, 1-800-273-8255, will continue to function after 988 activates. The new number will be available by text or chat as well.

The Department of Health and Human Services awarded more than $100 million to states and territories to strengthen crisis call center services in advance of the 988 transition.

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