What happens if I call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline?

A version of this article was originally posted on the IDONTMIND Journal.

Suicide is one of those incredibly difficult topics to talk about. If you’re having thoughts about suicide, it can feel like there’s no one to turn to that can actually understand what you’re going through. But the most important thing to remember is  suicide is preventable — even in those incredibly difficult moments, where it doesn’t seem like there’s another answer.

That’s where the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline comes in. The Lifeline is there to help calm you down and work to keep you safe in one of the most difficult moments in your life. But the idea of picking up the phone and talking to a stranger can feel, well, a little uncomfortable at first. And the unknown of what actually happens when you call may be a deciding factor in whether you pick up the phone.

Obviously, it’s going to look a little different for every person and every situation, but there are a few things that you can always expect, if you ever do need to give them a call.

The Basics

It’s free and confidential

It can feel incredibly vulnerable to share all of the deepest and darkest thoughts going on in your head. But every call is confidential, and you can be totally anonymous, if you’d like. You can share as much or as little as you’d like about your experience, but it’s a safe space to share, without having to pay a thing.

It’s offered in multiple languages

Language can be a huge barrier for a lot of people looking for crisis resources. But with the Lifeline, they’ll connect you with a translator. Just call the main line, and they will then connect you with a service that can translate calls in more than 150 languages.

Bonus: There’s an entire Spanish Language line you can reach at 1-888-628-9454.

You can call or chat

The Lifeline number is probably the first thing you think of. But sometimes having a full conversation over the phone can be a really scary step to take. So in those moments, if giving someone a call doesn’t feel like the right first step, you can use the Lifeline chat.

It’s not only for suicide prevention

Just like with The Crisis Text Line, you can call for any serious crisis happening in your life. You don’t need to only be contemplating suicide to call the number. We all need emotional support, and we all have things come up in life that feels unmanageable on our own. (Sometimes we just need someone to talk to. In those cases, try out a warmline!)

What to expect when you call in

1. You call 988

So you’ve decided it’s time that you give them a call. First off, good for you. It’s incredibly hard to take that first step, but you deserve the help. Once you dial in, you get an automatic message that gives you the option to switch to Spanish or to be transferred to the Veterans Crisis Line, if needed.

2. You’re redirected to a local crisis center

It sounds like a complicated process, but don’t worry! This all usually happens within 30 seconds. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is actually a huge network of crisis centers across the entire country. So your call is just sent to the center closest to you. That way, whoever you speak with can understand the resources available to you in your actual community.

3. You’re connected with a trained crisis worker

As quickly as possible, you’re connected with a trained staff member, professional, or volunteer. Everyone that answers your call has gone through the exact same training, so no matter what their title is, they can help you.

4. You guide the conversation

This conversation is for you to talk through everything that you’re feeling. Yes, the person on the other side of the phone may ask a few questions to get things started, but you get to decide what you feel comfortable sharing. You can talk about anything. The call can also last for however long you want it to. There’s no script that’s followed, the crisis workers are truly just having a conversation with you and hoping that you can feel better.

5. You can develop a safety plan and potential interventions

There may be a situation where thoughts about suicide just won’t leave your head — no matter how helpful a crisis counselor is. If you are still concerned about hurting yourself, you and the crisis worker will come up with a plan that feels right to you. In some cases, that means having a counselor come to your house, brainstorming family or friends that can help you, or scheduling another call to check-in with you later. In a situation that can feel overwhelming and stressful, they help put the control back into your hands to keep you safe and alive.

6. In rare cases, the police may be called

We know that a lot of people may be scared to call the Lifeline because they are concerned about the police coming to their house. We absolutely understand that fear! It’s worth mentioning that less than 3% of calls ever actually require police intervention. Normally, the crisis worker does everything they can to de-escalate your suicidal thoughts and help you come up with a safety plan before they involve anyone else.

If you are feeling unsafe and concerned about interacting with the police, you can also check out this resource for alternatives to calling the police.

One of the most serious signs of a mental condition is thinking about suicide. You’re needed in this world, and suicide is not the answer. If you’re thinking about hurting yourself or others, safety needs to be your first priority. Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.

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