A teenager wearing earphonesSeptember 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day—a day highlighting the importance of getting educated about the warning signs of suicide, and your ability to help someone in distress.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): “Nearly 40,000 people in the United States die from suicide annually, or 1 person every 13 minutes. The suicide rate has been rising over the past decade, with much of the increase driven by suicides in mid-life, where the majority of all suicides in the United States now occur.”

In an effort to help demystify what happens when a person calls a suicide hotline, we’re spotlighting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK), a self-described “public safety net” that connects callers with counselors at 150+ crisis centers across the nation. Six of those centers are located in Texas: two in Houston, and one in Austin, Dallas, El Paso, and Fort Worth.

The service is free and confidential. Last year, the Lifeline received more than 2 million calls. Roughly a quarter were suicidal crisis calls, while the rest pertained to non-suicidal mental health or substance abuse issues. It’s a vital resource that touches countless lives.

What to Expect if You Call

When callers dial 1-800-273-TALK, they’re connected to the nearest accredited crisis center. If call volume at the nearest center is at capacity, the call is answered by a network backup center. More than 85 percent of calls are routed in 30 seconds or less, though wait times nearing one to two minutes are occasionally reported.

Waiting at the other end of the line are teams of crisis counselors who are well-versed in the Lifeline’s best practices for suicide risk assessment and prevention. They’re trained to work collaboratively with callers—to keep an ear out for signs of imminent danger, and to engage an individual’s understanding of their own crisis.

What happens next depends on the present needs of the caller. The counselor might share coping techniques, establish contact with local mental health professionals or, if necessary, involve emergency services. Whether it takes minutes or hours, the counselor remains on the line until the situation de-escalates.

Know the Warning Signs and How to Support Survivors

You don’t have to be in crisis to call 1-800-273-TALK. The Lifeline is also available to people who are concerned about friends and family. Knowing the warning signs of suicidal behavior, as well how to provide support can prevent suicide.

Kindness and active listening go a long way when you encounter someone in distress. Check out this brief animated video to learn the power of empathy (versus sympathy).

Taking it a step further—by educating ourselves, applying our knowledge, and sharing what we learn with others—empowers people to take meaningful, potentially life-saving action. Check out SAMHSA’s suicide prevention information sheets specific to setting (e.g. workplaces, universities), profession (e.g. caregiver, teacher) and relationship (e.g. parent, faith community member).

Resources for Friends and Family

A supportive community is crucial for friends and family of people living with mental health conditions.

To become better equipped to support a loved one, learn tools for coping and self-care, and get to know people who are going through something similar, consider the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Family-to-Family educational course for family, caregivers and friends. Contact your local NAMI to find out when the course is offered in your area.


Links and Further Resources