Why Are Social Media Posts Urging People Not To Call 988?

The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline was recently launched to serve as the go-to number for those struggling with mental health crises (via NPR). 988, the new number for what was previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline was created as an easy-to-remember phone number for those struggling with suicidal thoughts, mental and emotional health problems, and issues with substance abuse, per the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). When you call 988, you are transferred to a crisis counselor who is able to listen to your concerns, talk you through them, and provide you with resources, per SAMHSA. You can connect with a 988 crisis counselor through a phone call, text, or via the chat function on their website, per SAMHSA.

An easy-to-remember number that links you to a trained crisis counselor sounds like a great resource for those who are struggling with their mental health. So why is this service raising red flags for people?

Why people are approaching 988 with caution

There have been a number of social media posts cautioning others about calling the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline due to the potential of getting involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward (via NPR). Involuntary hospitalizations are the norm in the United States when it comes to someone who is at risk of committing suicide but many other countries disagree with this method of treatment, per NPR.

A 2019 study published in the journal, Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, concluded that those who were involuntarily admitted to psychiatric wards were at a higher risk of committing suicide after being discharged. Another 2021 study from Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology found that young adults who were involuntarily hospitalized reported that the incident left them feeling reluctant to voice any further thoughts about suicide due to an inpatient environment that felt judgmental, incompetent, and as if they were being punished.

John Draper, executive director of the 988 hotline, told NPR that the goal is to deescalate the crisis and assist the caller without having to get emergency services involved. They do not currently have geolocation services so they can't automatically locate you if law enforcement or other emergency services are needed, rather they give 911 dispatchers your phone number or your IP address if you are using the chat service, per NPR.