By Samantha Cantrell
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. While mental health conditions and thoughts of suicide can affect anyone, these are especially prevalent for students.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, suicide is the third leading cause of death for people aged 15-24 in the United States, and the twelfth leading cause of death overall. Despite these sobering statistics, there is still notable stigma surrounding mental health services.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline recently put forth effort to make crisis support more accessible. To reach the Lifeline, callers previously needed to use the phone number 1-800-273-8255. This is still an active line to connect to crisis counselors, but there is now a shortcut available.
To ease the difficulty of remembering the number in a time of crisis, callers now only need to use the shortened phone number 988 to reach trained crisis responders.
988 also includes text and chat features, which provide safe alternatives for individuals who may not be comfortable speaking to a counselor over the phone.
Unfortunately, widespread misinformation has contributed to growing concern that at-risk individuals may be targeted when calling the lifeline. In months following the transition, many social media users expressed fears that there may be an increased number of involuntary hospitalizations and police involvement in crisis situations because of easier access to the lifeline. However, this is not necessarily the case.
First and foremost, it is important to remember that calls are directed to local crisis centers, where counselors are trained to listen and provide resources. Their first step should not be to involve law enforcement.
The service also does not use geolocation to track callers, and according to the service they are only able to see area codes from phone numbers or IP addresses of those who use their chat feature. Counselors cannot see exact addresses.
The Lifeline also reports that less than 2% of their interactions resulted in the dispatch of emergency services. Their intention is to be an alternative to 911 for mental health crises, not to involve law enforcement and emergency services without cause.
This means that unless there is a clear threat of harm to oneself or others, counselors are there to provide resources for help, not to directly intervene.
While feelings of isolation and loneliness are common, especially for college students, it is important to remember that you are not alone. There are resources available, both on a larger scale and on Wilson’s campus. The counseling center is available to students at no cost and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s okay not to be okay, and it is never too late to ask for help.
There is always a reason to stay alive. Your life is worth living.