988: America’s New Mental Health Hotline

By Kris W. Sky | Posted January 16, 2023

On Saturday, July 16, 2022, America’s “first nationwide three-digit mental health crisis hotline” was launched. Now anyone can call, or even text, 9-8-8 to get help with a psychiatric emergency, including suicide thoughts and attempts. 

The concept for the new line, which has “more than 200 call centers fanned out around the country,” originated from a personal experience of Sen. Daniel Thatcher of Utah. Seven years and one successful congressional bill later, 988 was born, chosen for its similarity to the established 911. According to Thatcher, this was deliberately done, considering “that despondent people in crisis may lack the wherewithal to seek out help or to remember the 10-digit national suicide lifeline number.”

And now, only six months from when it started, the hotline has had “over 2 million calls, texts and chat messages.” In fact, it received “154,585 more calls, texts and chat messages during November 2022 compared to the old national lifeline in November 2021,” in particular, “a 1,227% increase in texts.” New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day saw “a 30 percent increase compared to the previous holiday” with 3,869 calls.

According to Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, head of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “The call volume is, in some instances, well beyond what we anticipated.”

The line also caters to specific demographics, like Spanish speakers and veterans. Before the end of 2022, call centers dedicated to Spanish speakers had already increased “from three to seven.” And “a pilot line dedicated to LGBTQ youth started taking calls in September,” also with expectations for further development.

America’s Mental Health Crisis

In July and August of 2022, a CNN-Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that “nine out of 10 adults said they believed that there’s a mental health crisis in the US today.” Additionally, it reported that “more than 1 in 5 adults describe their own mental health as only ‘fair’ or ‘poor,’ including extra-large shares of adults under the age of 30, adults who identify as LGBT and those with an annual income of less than $40,000.”

The Pew Research Center conducted a study from March 2020 to September 2022, analyzing the same sample of American adults in four surveys. In the last survey, 61 percent reported feeling “nervous, anxious, or on edge”; 46 percent “felt depressed”; and 42 percent “felt lonely” at least one day that past week.

Of particular interest, Pew learned that “a 58% majority of those ages 18 to 29 have experienced high levels of psychological distress at least once across” the two years. Others are also taking notice of a rise in mental health challenges in our youth. Research out of the National Center for Health Statistics, an agency within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found a startling 16 percent increase from 2020 to 2021 of females aged 10 to 14 committing suicide. A March 2022 article on the UCLA Health website stated, “Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people age 15 to 24 in the U.S.” The National Alliance on Mental Illness reported that 20 percent of high school students have “serious thoughts about suicide” and that 9 percent have attempted it.

“We’ve just seen rapidly escalating numbers of adolescents coming in with suicidal thoughts. And it seems like we’ve been seeing younger patients as well,” said Dr. David Sheridan, a pediatric physician at Oregon Health and Science University Hospital’s emergency room.

These tragic statistics align with the rates of suicide in America in general, which, except for a slight anomaly in 2019 and 2020, have “increased by 35%” since 2000. In 2021, 47,646 suicides were committed in the United States, a 4 percent increase from the previous year. These numbers are in stark contrast to the rest of the world, which has seen a decrease in suicides “over the last three decades.”

The Mind of Christ

Carl Fleisher, an adolescent and child psychiatrist at UCLA Health, explained that “young people are particularly vulnerable to suicide” because “developmentally, their judgment and decision-making abilities are still coming online.” This is due to “the prefrontal cortex—the brain’s executive control center—[which] doesn’t fully develop until one’s mid-20s.”

Located directly behind the forehead, the prefrontal cortex is also the seat of one’s religious beliefs. This brings even deeper meaning to the passages in Scripture in which God commands us to “bind” His law upon our “hand” and “forehead” (Deuteronomy 6:8 NRSV).

More than anyone, God, our Creator, knows how crucial the prefrontal cortex is to the decisions we make—especially the decision to take our own life. That’s why God desires us to have His law in our minds (Hebrews 8:10), to love and follow it, because His law gives life (Deuteronomy 6:24). And God desires us to “choose life” (30:19) because He loves us (John 3:16).

God does not want you to die, and He’s here to give you a helping hand. Whatever your struggle—depression, anxiety, low self-esteem—Christ is able to help you overcome it (John 16:33). “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,” Philippians 2:5 says. Allow Christ into your heart to transform your mind (2 Corinthians 3:18), for He has already won the victory (1 Corinthians 15:57).

For more encouragement, order our free book “Choosing Life: A Christian Perspective on Suicide,” or try this powerful testimony on “Suicide, Hope, and Purpose.” 

If you or a loved one is having a mental health emergency and/or contemplating suicide, please get help now:

Contact your pastor or a Christian counselor.

Call or text 9-8-8, available 24/7. To start a chat, go to 988lifeline.org.

Kris W. Sky
Kris W. Sky is a writer and editor for Amazing Facts International and other online and print publications.

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