Suicide is the second highest cause of death in this county among young people, according to the 988 Suicide Crisis and Prevention Lifeline, formerly National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. For decades the organization has been pulling people from the edge.
For those unfamiliar with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a person in deep depression with suicidal thoughts can call this number and be connected with trained experts to help them.
As of July 16, rather than trying to look up or remember a long 1-800 number in the midst of one of these dark moments, you will only need to remember three numbers: 988.
This impacts islanders as well. According to Washington Health Authority data from 2016, over six years ago, San Juan County had a higher suicide rate than Washington state as a whole. That data is old, so we may be in a better place, but given how much has been going on in the world, it is likely unchanged. The fact that the hotline is being changed to the easy-to-remember 988 means locals will have the resources they need readily accessible.
The new lifeline will continue to work for veterans and for substance abuse as it has in the past. Veterans can use this new option by dialing 988 and then pressing 1 to contact the Veterans Crisis Line. They may still reach that crisis line with the current phone number — 1-800-273-8255 — and pressing 1. Those responders are trained specifically in veteran crisis intervention and military culture.
Here are a few other things that will remain the same:
• Even with the addition of 988, all of the existing phone lines and services people are familiar with are still available.
• There will be no changes to dispatch for Designated Crisis Responders and mobile crisis response teams or the functions of any other regional crisis service.
• The NSPL Lifeline crisis centers will continue to operate their services in accordance with NSPL Lifeline standards and connect with 911 services and regional crisis services as usual.
Two very simple things will change: 988 calls will now go directly to National Suicide Prevention Lifeline member centers. The ten-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will remain active, and 988 calls will be routed by the caller’s area code. Washington, including regional member centers, does not control routing at this time.
The change came about because alternative response programs have increasingly been operating alongside and/or in lieu of 911, according to LifeLine. They have been working hand-in-hand with many of these programs every day through their Beacon Emergency Dispatch platform. BED is a cloud-based community response platform that is used to alert, coordinate and track alternative responders for mental health emergencies in San Diego, opioid overdoses in Hartford and domestic violence crises in Las Vegas. Each of these programs is proving on a daily basis that crisis response teams can provide response services as effectively as traditional 911 does.
Often all it takes to hold someone back from the edge is a sincere check-in, asking them how they are doing and letting them know you care. But suicide is not to be taken lightly. If you or someone you know is in crisis, remember those three digits: 988. A life could depend on it.