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New 988 suicide hotline number will be game changer for LGBTQ+ youth

by Judy Bokao

On July 16th, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline switches to a simple 988 number.

This transition is expected to enhance the way we navigate mental health services and improve access to life-saving resources. The newly streamlined process could make a crucial difference for the 1.8 million LGBTQ+ youth between the ages of 13 and 24 who consider suicide each year in the U.S.

Dialing the three-digit number at any time will route you to free and confidential emotional support. Similar to 911, 988 will be an easy to remember number for someone in immediate distress. ​​The new number will connect the caller to a certified crisis center in the area where the call is placed. The trained counselors will listen, understand how their problems are affecting them, provide support, and connect them to resources if necessary.

This is meaningful news for young queer kids, who are increasingly more likely to be in distress and consider suicide. According to research, LGBTQ+ youth are more than four times as likely to contemplate suicide than their heterosexual peers. This transition is a lifeline for many queer kids and can help offer crucial support in moments of crisis and ultimately save lives. This couldn’t come at a better time given the increasing legislation across the country targeting the rights of LGBTQ+ young people.

Queer youth have been struggling not only with the effects of the pandemic but also the relentless anti-LGBTQ+ laws which are making their lives harder. These circumstances added to the extensive homophobia and bullying they undergo everyday has taken a toll on their mental health. When someone falls into depression and considers suicide, in many cases queer kids feel like they have no one to turn to.

This new 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline will provide a listening ear and possibly intervene to save lives. The new program has also taken this into account the needed sensitivity and competency around LGBTQ+ issues and has partnered up with The Trevor Project, a national organization fighting suicide among LGBTQ+ youth in the 988 implementation.

In different states, Lifeline officials and potential LGBTQ-youth-focused 988 providers are discussing ways to provide care specifically to the queer youth expected to be calling the line. In New York and other states, all counselors will receive training from experts in providing affirming services to LGBTQIA+ individuals in crisis.

The 988 crisis responders in New York have also been provided with multiple educational webinars and guidance documents focusing on inclusive language and best practices on how to support LGBTQ+ youth who contact 988. It is crucial for the responders to be LGBTQ+ informed as it will help especially when dealing with queer youths going through an identity crisis. For example, they should know to not assume any identities and avoid making assumptions about a caller’s gender or pronouns.

The 988-suicide prevention lifeline is expected to streamline mental health responses so people can get the urgent help they need. In the past, many people undergoing a mental crisis called 911 but 911 wasn’t set up to address mental health needs. We have lost many young, queer people to suicide and it is about time we start offering accessible, effective intervention to save lives.

This is a game changer for the young LGBTQ + community in America and I hope it will be implemented well.

About the Author:

Judy Bokao was born in Ethiopia but relocated to Nairobi two years ago. She is passionate about everyone having equal rights and is also big on conservation and speaking up for our planet. Judy loves reading and photography and is just a free-spirited young lady trying to grow into a woman her mom can be proud of.

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