988 suicide hotline adds support for American Sign Language
The feature is available now through 988lifeline.org and through videophones. Direct calling from videophones will be added soon.LEARN MORE
September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. It's been a year since 988 became the official number for National Suicide Prevention Helpline.
September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. It's also more than a year since 988 became the official number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
In a short time, it's had a dramatic impact.
The 988 lifeline answered nearly 5 million contacts in its first year. That's a combination of chats, texts, and mainly phone calls.
In the Bay Area, those calls occasionally reach Harry Manacsa, a volunteer with Alameda County's Crisis Support Services.
"It's my experience that suicidal folks already know that they want to take this action," Manacsa said. "They're having a particularly stressful time at work or with family, and they just need somebody to talk them through it — somebody who's not going to judge them."
Manacsa has volunteered for the past four years. Since the switch last year to 988, he says call volume has noticeably increased.
Narges Zohoury Dillon has the numbers to back that statement. Dillon oversees the county's service. She says there's been a 40% increase in call volume.
"I think there is this perception of lights and sirens that comes with the help-seeking," Dillon said, "and I want people to know that's most often not the case. And our counselors are trained to really be there and be patient and caring."
Added Manacsa, "It's not our job to diagnose and course-correct for them. That's the job of a professional. [Our job is] to deescalate the tension of the feeling of the moment, because it's hard for them to make a decision when they're that tense."
Many, like Manacsa, aren't professionals. They're volunteers with rigorous training. Many take calls from home. And many, like Manacsa, know it works because, before they handled calls, they made them.
"I've personally struggled with thoughts of suicide," Manacsa said. "And because I went through that very harsh, intense experience dealing with my mental health, I came out on the other side thinking that it doesn't have to end there. It really doesn't have to end there."
We agreed not to share the specifics of Manacsa's story. But he shared his time with us for the same reasons he shares it with those who call: It's about saving lives. Through one interview or three digits, lives can be saved when stigma is changed.
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