Beginning July 16 of this year, dialing 988 will connect callers in the United States to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 47,000 individuals died by suicide in the U.S. in 2019, which ranked as the 10th-leading cause of death in America that year.
In expanding the ease by which individuals can connect with hotline services, we broaden the reach and effectiveness of the current resources we have available. However, without appropriate and tactful awareness, promotion and education of both the public and the health care system, the capability of 988 to significantly improve suicide prevention will be greatly diminished.
An inherent strength of the current 911 system in America is the ubiquity by which it is known. Regardless of your age, city or education level, virtually everyone in America knows what to do in an emergency: Call 911.
Reaching this level of general knowledge throughout an entire population will take an enormous amount of effort and reinforcement. Nevertheless, improving the awareness of this upcoming service is important for the health and safety of those struggling with mental health issues in our nation.
There are many intrinsic strengths to 988. It is short and easy to remember, a necessary quality of a resource meant for instances of distress. These are moments when time and ease of use are of the essence. It will also allow those in need to connect to an established prevention hotline with greater ease than ever before.
To fully recognize the benefits that 988 can bring to our society, we must ensure that our efforts to educate our population are sound and effective. Mental health providers specifically are important given their consistent and frequent opportunities to educate many of those at greater risk of suicide about 988.
In addition to educating our nation’s health care workers, we must push to increase the awareness of 988’s summer rollout to the public to reach those not already engaged with a mental health provider or a broader health care entity. No one plans to have an emergency, but if everyone holds the knowledge of what to do in the event of a mental health crisis, we will all be much more prepared to handle it should the time arise.
Del Carter is a third-year medical student and holds a B.A. in political science.
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This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Del Carter: Increase awareness of 988 service for mental health