After Its Rollout, This Hotline Is Already Presenting Some Red Flags

person looking down at phone in the dark
Zain Murdock
August 31, 2023

On July 16, 2022, a new three-digit code went live to improve access to crisis services, specifically the National Suicide Prevention hotline. It’s called 988. But after less than a year of putting 988 to work, some results are concerning.

988 was marketed as a police alternative for people in crisis, who often fear violence from cops or forced hospitalization. 

Further, there’s a lack of scientific evidence that forced hospitalization is more life-saving than other interventions. In fact, there’s a pattern of people being even more at risk for suicide post-hospitalization.

Since going live, 988 received millions of contacts. But a rise in contacts also unfortunately means a rise in psychiatric detention, and this causes financial and psychological stress. In Philadelphia, for example, about 25% of crisis dispatches ended in involuntary hospitalization - over 100 monthly. 

Many also share privacy concerns about call tracing. One newsroom found that 988 shares sensitive visitor data with Facebook.

For Black communities, who have experienced an increase in suicide rates and a disproportionate rate of brutality, surveillance, and criminalization at the hands of police, this is especially troubling.

In the face of cultural and systemic mental health stigma, it’s good to encourage our loved ones in crisis to seek help. But who is “help”? And is it safe? 

We deserve to know the risks of the resources proclaiming to save our lives.

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