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The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers

Aug 31, 2023
child on his phone

Suicide rates in youth continue to be a growing concern. Many factors influence a young person’s mental health including increased academic and social pressures, exposure to social media and cyberbullying, stigma, substance abuse, and more. Asking for help during a mental health crisis is key, but sometimes knowing where to turn can be confusing. Parents and caregivers need to know about available resources that they can use to support the young people in their lives when they are mentally overwhelmed. One vital resource is the "988" Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

What Is 988?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has designated 988 as the replacement number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, previously reached by dialing 1-800-273-TALK.

Like 911 for emergencies, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is dedicated to mental health concerns and is available via text or chat 24 hours a day, 7 days a week throughout the United States. The goal is to connect individuals in crisis with trained crisis counselors. Both text and chat services are available in English and Spanish.

When Should You Call or Text 988?

Call or text 988 if you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis or thinking about suicide. Anyone can call or text 988.

Examples of situations that may warrant a call include severe anxiety or depression, feelings of hopelessness, thoughts of suicide, or concern about someone else's mental well-being.

What Can You Expect When You Call 988?

  • Trained crisis counselors. When you dial 988, your call is routed to the nearest crisis center within a national network of over 180 centers.
  • Empathetic listening and emotional support. A compassionate and understanding crisis counselor will answer your call and listen to your concerns without judgment, and will provide an emotionally safe space for you to express your feelings and thoughts.
  • Confidentiality. The counselor will keep your conversation private. Only in cases where there is an imminent threat to your safety or others will crisis counselors involve emergency services to ensure your well-being.
  • A quick assessment. The counselor will ask questions to understand your situation better and assess the level of risk, determining the most appropriate course of action.
  • Collaborative problem-solving. Based on the information shared, the counselor will work with you to develop a plan for support and safety which may include a discussion of coping strategies, available resources, and next steps.
  • Referrals and resources. The counselor may provide information about local mental health services, support groups, or other resources that can assist you or the person in crisis.
  • Follow-up and continued care. The counselor may offer a follow-up call or suggest ongoing support options to ensure your well-being in the days and weeks ahead.

How Can Parents and Caregivers Support the Use of 988?

Make sure your children are aware of the existence and purpose of 988. Explain to them that it is a safe place to seek help when they are feeling down, anxious, or overwhelmed. Encourage open and honest conversations about emotions and mental health at home. Let your children know that it's okay to experience a wide range of feelings and that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Program the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline into your family's phones for easy access.

What Can You Do While Waiting for a Loved One to Get Help?

  • Stay with the person in crisis. It’s crucial to stay with the person in crisis until help arrives or the counselor advises otherwise.
  • Encourage open communication. Listen attentively and allow the person to express their thoughts and feelings without judgment. Reassure them that help is on the way.
  • Remove potential dangers. If possible, remove any objects that could be used for self-harm or harm to others, such as weapons or medications.
  • Encourage coping skills. Promote activities that may help distract from distressing thoughts, such as deep breathing exercises, listening to calming music, or engaging in hobbies the person enjoys.

Calling or texting 988 can save a life. It can make a big difference for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis or thoughts of suicide. Do not hesitate to make the call if you or someone you know is in crisis. You're not alone, and help is just a phone call away. Remember, when in doubt or when facing a life-threatening emergency, always call 911 first.

If you or your child need immediate help due to having suicidal thoughts, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. If there is an immediate safety concern, call 911 or go the nearest emergency room. Let them know you will get through this together.

Featured Expert

Elena Camacho
Elena Camacho, LSW
Behavioral Health

Elena Camacho, LSW is a Behavioral Health Suicide Prevention Specialist at the Behavioral Health Pavilion at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.