Suicide is a heartbreaking and tragic occurrence in our society and is particularly pronounced among youths.

When an otherwise healthy young person takes their own life, their family, friends and community are often devastated, wondering what went so wrong – and what they could have done differently.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States, with 45,979 deaths in 2020 – or one death every 11 minutes.

The CDC estimates that in 2020, 12.2 million American adults seriously considered suicide, while 1.2 million attempted it.

The agency also notes that it was the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-14 and 25-34.

As a part of the effort to prevent suicide, starting July 16, a new suicide hotline number will go live nationwide.

Most children are taught from an early age what number to call in an emergency: 911.

Now, for individuals in desperate emotional or mental distress, there is a new number for individuals to call: 988.

The 988 number has been designated as the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and will route callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

According to the website for the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, anyone who calls, texts, or chats 988 will be connected to trained counselors that are a part of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network.

The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for callers in emotional or mental distress, as well as prevention and crisis resources.

Formerly, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number was 1-800-273-TALK (8255). That number will remain active and available to anyone who calls that number.

“The Lifeline’s network of over 200 crisis centers has been in operation since 2005, and has been proven to be effective,” the 988 Lifeline website notes.

“It’s the counselors at these local crisis centers who answer the contacts the Lifeline receives every day. Numerous studies have shown that callers feel less suicidal, less depressed, less overwhelmed and more hopeful after speaking with a Lifeline counselor.”

According to TDS Telecommunications, a telephone provider, who was required by the federal government to build the infrastructure needed to implement 988 in their network, over 2.1 million people called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in 2020.

The 988 Lifeline website gives a brief summary of what will take place when you call the lifeline:

  1. First, you’ll hear an automated message featuring additional options while your call is routed to your local Lifeline network crisis center.
  2. We’ll play you a little music while we connect you to a skilled, trained crisis worker.
  3. A trained crisis worker at your local center will answer the phone.
  4. This person will listen to you, understand how your problem is affecting you, provide support, and get you the help you need.

The new 988 number comes after Congress designated the new code to be a part of the existing Lifeline network in the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020.

The number will be administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) along with Vibrant Emotional Health, which currently administers the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

“What’s really great is that the suicide hotline [1-844-493-8255] has always been a suicide prevention resource. 988 is intended to be a crisis support for any source of crisis that comes in, and it’s really embracing self-defined crisis,” Kelly Bowman, director of Colorado’s crisis response line, recently told Rocky Mountain PBS.

“Sometimes it’s hard to take that step and say you know what? It was a rough day and I just need to connect with someone, and that power of human connection can make all the difference in the world and 988 is really about increasing that access and making it easy to remember.”

Focus on the Family’s Alive to Thrive program is a clinically sound, biblical informed, free online training resource, which equips parents and other adults who interact with children and teens to prevent and respond effectively to youth suicide. To learn more about Alive to Thrive, click here.

Additionally, if you’re struggling and need to speak with someone, Focus on the Family offers a free, one-time counseling consultation with a licensed or pastoral counselor. To request a counseling consultation, call 1-855-771-HELP (4357) or fill out our Counseling Consultation Request Form.

Related articles and resources:

Alive to Thrive

Counseling Consultation & Referrals

44% of Children Were ‘Sad’ or ‘Hopeless’ During Lockdowns, New CDC Study Finds

Does Marriage Protect Against Suicide?

California’s Effort to Force Doctors to Participate in Assisted Suicide Prompts Lawsuit

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