As of July 2022, the new dialing code for the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 988. Now called Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, it connects people 24/7 with mental health counselors across a network of over 200 local call centres.
With a more accessible, more memorable number, the Lifeline aims to better support people going through a mental health crisis. The challenge for mental health and social workers: how can we spread awareness of 988? One social worker figured it out…with Stickers.
Kataryna “Kat” Evanowicz is a licensed social worker in Philadelphia, where she works in pediatric behavioral health at a local children’s hospital. “I’ve worked in behavioral health for the majority of my career, spending time in a variety of settings – medical hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, emergency rooms, and outpatient clinics.”
Now, she supervises a team of social workers who provide intake evaluations and case management services to a large patient population. When her team started organizing a weekly “Jeans Day” to raise money, they used the money collected to raise awareness about the new and improved National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Why 988 matters
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline first went active in 2005 with a (very) long phone number. In 2020, Congress designated the new 988 dialing code to improve its accessibility. After almost two years of preparation, the number went into effect in July 2022.
“Think of it as 911 for mental health. Anyone in the United States can call or text 988 to receive support for suicidal thoughts or any other mental health or substance abuse crisis. The 988 number will redirect the caller to the appropriate local crisis hotline.”
The best thing about the new Suicide and Crisis Lifeline? “Having a simple, standardized dialing code that can connect callers to their local crisis team, rather than relying on state-specific, county-specific, or affinity-specific (Veteran’s Crisis Line, The Trevor Project) numbers!”
“Think of it as 911 for mental health”
“I used to give my patients a handout with over a dozen crisis numbers listed. That’s a lot for someone to navigate on their own, especially for a child or teen. It can also be tough for children and teens to readily access this information when they need it. They may not want their parents to find that flyer or be embarrassed to store a crisis number in their contacts.”
For the Philadelphia social worker, it’s important to note that 988 and related call centres will engage in non-consensual active rescue when deemed appropriate. “This means that they may dispatch police, EMS, or a mobile crisis team to your location if they feel you are at imminent risk of hurting yourself or others.
“The US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that fewer than 2% of calls result in this level of response, but we cannot overlook the reality that police involvement often escalates crisis situations, and can cause harm through incarceration, injury, or death – particularly towards people of colour.”
Spreading the word about 988
Thanks to the new Lifeline, we could save more lives. “If we can teach everyone to remember 988 the way they remember 911, so many more people could access the service when they’re in a time of need.”
Kat and her team looked into purchasing some promotional merch to spread the word about 988 with patients and their families. Surprised to find out nothing existed yet, she set out to make some herself. “Kids love stickers, so that was an easy choice.”
She used online design tool Canva to create a series of no less than 12 different designs on MOO’s Large Round Stickers. “I’m no artist, so I did have to use pre-existing fonts and images. I selected the fonts, images, and colourways used, and came up with the wording and layout of each sticker.
“If just one of these stickers makes it onto a water bottle or a laptop, I’ll be proud”
“To be honest, I tried really hard to make something that teens would find ‘cool’, so they’ll keep the information somewhere visible. If just one of these stickers makes it onto a water bottle or a laptop, I’ll be proud.”
Kat and her team made sure the colourful stickers wouldn’t go unnoticed in the hospital. “We’ve strategically placed some of the stickers where patients can see them during their appointments: the back of our laptops, our clipboards, and our water bottles. We’ll also be sharing the stickers with patients and families, especially our teen patients.”
The feedback on the team’s new 988 stickers has been positive. “The stickers have been a big hit with my colleagues in the office. I haven’t personally had the opportunity to hand any out to patients just yet, but I’m excited to do so. We’ll probably need to order more stickers sooner rather than later!”
One step in the right direction
Kat and her team believe the new Lifeline is great progress, but there’s still a lot to do. “The behavioral healthcare system in our country is deeply flawed, including our crisis response systems – but this is an overall step in the right direction. I’m hopeful that we will continue to see improvement in how we respond to those in need of social and psychological support.”
Mental health is precious. Kat concludes with a plea – “if you are having thoughts about hurting or killing yourself, please know that you are not alone, and help is available. You are not a burden or a bother, and someone is ready and waiting to talk with you at 988.”
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