Each day, over 15 Veterans will commit suicide. It’s a harrowing statistic that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is aware of and wants to decrease at all costs. One action plan the VA recently implemented involves the installment of the new 9-8-8 suicide prevention hotline number. Modeled after 911, let’s look at how the unique 988 number will help our Vets and society as a whole.
New Suicide Prevention Hotline Number May Help Lower Veteran Suicide Rates
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ 2021 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, the suicide rate from 2001 to 2019 for Veterans increased by 35.9%. To add further context, in 2001, 23.3 Veterans per 100,000 lost their lives to suicide, but that number rose to 31.6 per 100,000 in 2019. The report also specifies that the unadjusted suicide rate among Veterans ages 18-34 was the highest in 2019, accounting for the lives of 44.4 Veterans per 100,000.
In more positive news, the report delineates 399 fewer Veteran suicides in 2019 than in 2018. Additionally, male Veterans experienced a 3.6% decrease in suicides in 2019 compared to 2018, and female Veterans had a 12.8% decrease.
With a newer, shorter suicide hotline number patterned after 911, the VA is hoping these numbers continue to decrease.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
The new 988 suicide prevention hotline, mandated by Congress in 2020, is designed to give individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts an easy-to-remember alternative to 911. As part of the law, telephone service providers in the U.S. activated the number in mid-July 2022.
The 988 suicide prevention hotline is available 24/7 and offers confidential support to people in crisis. They have a national network of more than 200 crisis centers, each equipped with mental health professionals. It also supports family members worried about a loved one who may be going through a crisis.
For Veterans, dialing 988 or texting the number and pressing one will automatically connect you to the Veteran Crisis Line. Vets can still reach the crisis line by dialing the previous phone number, 1 (800) 273-8255, and pressing 1.
Veterans who text the number get connected to a trained mental health professional at a center closest to them. Additionally, if the local crisis center gets backed up, the call gets rerouted to one of 16 backup centers.
Now that the new 988 suicide hotline number is implemented, crisis centers anticipate an increase in the number of calls and texts they receive. Health officials project the number of calls and texts to double over one year with the new 988 number.
Benefits the Veterans Suicide Hotline Fulfills
According to NPR, the new suicide prevention hotline fills a gap in our mental health care. One of the benefits of the easy-to-remember 988 number is that there will be fewer calls to 911 for mental health emergencies.
911 isn’t for suicidal crises and sometimes can worsen the problem once the police get involved. It can take hours or even days until law enforcement gets suicidal patients the proper mental health treatment they need.
According to Benjamin Miller, psychologist and president of Well Being Trust, “If you look at the data from the police, about 20% of their total staff time is spent responding and transporting individuals who are experiencing a mental health crisis.”
The new 988 number should combat this dilemma and hopefully help individuals and Veterans get the proper help they need when they need it the most.
When To Call Suicide Prevention Hotline
The suicide prevention hotline is for individuals experiencing a suicidal crisis. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline noted a few reasons people call the hotline for help. Here are a few common things that can cause suicidal ideation in individuals who call the suicide prevention hotline:
- Mental & physical illness
- Sexual orientation
- Economic concerns
- Substance abuse
- Relationship & family problems
If you or anyone you know is experiencing any of the above issues and has suicidal thoughts, please call the new 988 suicide prevention number to get the proper help you deserve.
Every day, a Veteran will lose their life to suicide, and dozens more will find themselves in a suicidal crisis. Using the new 988 suicide prevention hotline, Veterans can connect to mental health professionals who want to help. No Veteran should lose their life because they can’t get the help they deserve, so make sure to spread the word and call 988 if you need help.
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