Nevada expert says more are using 988 suicide prevention lifeline than originally anticipated, defends against critics

A Nevada mental health expert says more people are using the 988 suicide prevention lifeline than originally anticipated.
Published: Sep. 12, 2022 at 6:50 PM PDT
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LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) - It has now been six weeks since the new number for the suicide prevention lifeline 988 was rolled out. In its first week alone, the volume of people reaching out was up by about 45 percent from the week before the transition.

But mental health experts are now defending the lifeline against critics and setting the record straight.

“It’s been kind of surprising with more people using the number than what they initially thought, especially with the number being so new. So that’s been great to hear,” said Dr. Sheldon A. Jacobs, licensed marriage and family therapist and board member on the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Broadening access was always the goal with shortening the phone number to just three simple digits.

“It’s easy to remember! 911, 988, it’s easy to remember. There’s also a text option too,” he said.

Ideally 988 will help mental health professionals get a handle on the issue of suicide in the U.S., according to Southern Nevada’s own Dr. Jacobs.

“It’s also a screening, ya know, it’s a screening mechanism,” said Dr. Jacobs. “You know somebody might be calling the number 988 just because they want to talk to somebody, and from that conversation, from that discussion, ya know that person shares that, ’I want to hurt myself or I want to hurt somebody else.’ And in those situations the right support, the right level of treatment and care need to occur.”

If it is also determined that a person has lethal or imminent means to hurt themselves or others, 988 call center workers may call police, and the caller could be taken to a hospital involuntarily.

It’s an aspect of the hotline facing some criticim. Some are arguing it could cause further traumatization, Dr. Jacobs said.

“It’s a controversial issue... because being in the hospital sometimes can be traumatic for some folks.”

But Dr. Jacobs said it is a legal requirement for them to report it, because it is designed to keep people at imminent risk-- safe. He said that should not discourage people in crisis from using the hotline.

“I’m here to tell everyone that 988 is meant to save lives,” said Dr. Jacobs.

Separately, Dr. Jacobs recently made history when he became the first Nevadan to be elected to the national board of NAMI. He said it is allowing him to advocate for a stronger national focus on the mental health needs of Nevadans.