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Suicide Prevention Update: 988

Fishtown Wellness Center / Mental Health  / Suicide Prevention Update: 988

Suicide Prevention Update: 988

By: Riley Fortier, M.Ed. 

CW: suicide, police

The Beginning of Suicide Prevention

The first U.S. suicide prevention hotline opened in Los Angeles in 1958. With multiple tasks forces and iterations of suicide prevention for the next 30 years, the push for a more unified approach happened in the 1990s. Grassroots groups used suicide prevention guidelines from the U.N. to create a list of recommendations, which were finalized in the Reno Conference, which is considered the start of the modern suicide prevention movement.

There were five key points from the Reno Conference:

  1. Suicide prevention must recognize and affirm the value, dignity, and importance of each person.
  2. Suicide is not solely the result of illness or inner conditions. The feelings of hopelessness that contribute to suicide can stem from societal conditions and attitudes. Therefore, everyone concerned with suicide prevention shares a responsibility to help change attitudes and eliminate the conditions of oppression, racism, homophobia, discrimination, and prejudice.
  3. Some groups are disproportionately affected by these societal conditions, and some are at greater risk for suicide.
  4. Individuals, communities, organizations, and leaders at all levels should collaborate to promote suicide prevention.
  5. The success of this strategy ultimately rests with individuals and communities across the United States.

More Modern Efforts

This eventually brought on the need for a national effort for suicide prevention, with the formation of the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention in 2001. Additionally, that same year, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline was established to reach more folks in need through the use of local crisis call centers. The line connects callers to a crisis center geographically nearest to them from a national network of over 150 crisis centers. This service is available 24/7 and is offered in both English and Spanish.

As of July 2022 in the United States added a much simpler call number to this service: 988. These three digits essentially acts as a shortcut to be connected to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline because it is much easier and more accessible to dial 988 than the original phone number, although the original number is still active and in use. 


Vibrant Emotional Health, a New York-based non-profit operates the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL), and also now operates 988. The reason this is important is because Vibrant Emotional Health implements a controversial policy of covertly tracing all of its 180 participating call centers. Additionally, Vibrant prevents all other, non-NSPL crisis lines from receiving 988 calls or related state funding. This endangers the survival of any community-based crisis hotlines that are truly confidential.

Calls are routed to the geographically closest NSPL call center based on the callers’ area codes. To trace a call, NSPL call-responders must contact a 911 dispatch center. Vibrant Emotional Health and NSPL leaders have started lobbying the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for direct control of call-tracing technology. In April 2021, the FCC issued a 21-age report exploring possible incorporating mass surveillance and geolocation tracking into 988.

Will police be alerted or involved in every call made? No. But, the use of police and involuntary hospitalization can be incredibly dangerous to mentally ill, disabled people, and people of color, especially Black folks. 


Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860, available 24/7

THRIVE: text message line at 313-662-8209, available 24/7

Promise Resource Network: 833-390-7728, available 24/7

Project Return Peer Support Network: 888-448-9777 (English) or 888-448-4055 (Spanish), available M-F 2:30-10:00 pm and Sat-Sun 10:00-6:00 pm.

Wildflower Alliance Peer Support Line: 888-407-4515, available M-Th 7:00-9:00 pm and Friday 7:00-10:00 pm.

Resources Used


Instagram post by @elliott_lloyd61 



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