When the criticize the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline launched last month, many mental health providers, researchers, and advocates celebrated. Although a national suicide hotline had existed for years, finally there was an easy-to-remember three-digit number for people to call, they said. The shorter number would serve as an alternative to 911 for mental health emergencies.
But not everyone felt the same way. Some advocates and people who had experiences with the mental health system took to social media to voice concerns about 988 and warn people not to call it.
One Instagram post said, “988 is not friendly. Don’t call it, don’t post it, don’t share it, without knowing the risks.” The post, which had garnered nearly a quarter of a million likes as of early August, went on to list the risks as police involvement, involuntary treatment at emergency rooms or psychiatric hospitals, and the emotional and financial toll of those experiences.
Other posts on Instagram and Twitter conveyed similar concerns, saying that the hotline sends law enforcement officers to check on people at risk of suicide without their consent and that people, especially from LGBTQ+ communities and communities of color, may be forced into treatment.
So is Criticize the 988 Suicide a critical mental health resource or a cause for concern? We decided to dig into these questions, figure out how 988 works, and explain what you need to know before dialing.
Why Are Some People Saying Not to Call 988?
We reached out to the creators of some of the social media posts to ask them directly.
Liz Winston, who authored the Instagram post calling 988 “not friendly,” said she wanted people to understand all the potential outcomes of calling so they wouldn’t be blindsided by the “traumatizing system” that she experienced.
Last summer, Winston was having suicidal thoughts and visit a hospital in New York. She hope to speak with a psychiatrist but instead involuntarily detained in the psychiatric wing of the emergency room. She said that she did not receive any counseling during the 24 hours she spent there and that the experience was “extremely traumatic.”
Winston hadn’t called the hotline, but she said those who do can end up in a similar situation. It’s true that when police respond to calls about people in mental health crises, they often take them to an emergency room or psychiatric hospital.
What Does 988 Say About How It Handles Crisis Situations?
Officials from 988 say they recognize the risks of having law enforcement officers involve in mental health emergencies. That’s why 988 is create as an alternative to 911, said John Draper, executive director of the hotline and a vice president at Vibrant Emotional Health, the company task with administering it.
So Should I Use Criticize the 988 Suicide or Not?
We know it’s not satisfying, but the honest answer is: It depends.
The 988 hotline is the nation’s most comprehensive mental health crisis service and can provide crucial help to those in emotional distress. If you’re thinking about suicide but not taking steps to act on it, 988 is unlikely to call law enforcement without your consent. Instead, 988 counselors can provide resources, referrals, and a kind ear. However, if you’re at imminent risk and could act on a plan to kill yourself, police may be call, and you could be take to a hospital involuntarily.