Rutgers to play crucial role in upcoming “National Suicide Prevention Lifeline”

Rutgers  University is preparing to play a pivotal role in New Jersey’s rollout of the new National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number later this month.

The 988 hotline will work similar to how the 911 hotline currently works and will serve as an alternative to calling the three-digital hotline or law enforcement for mental health crisis situations.

People experiencing mental health or substance-use crisis can dial or text 988 to contact counselors on standby 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They will be trained to provide support, risk assessment, safety planning and referrals to local mental health treatment services or resources.

With the hotline scheduled to go live across the country on July 16, the Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care National Call Center has been selected to serve as one of 12 national backup centers that will triage overflow calls made to 988. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which will fund the hotline, there is about one death by suicide in the United States every 11 minutes and about 12 million people report seriously considering suicide each year.

More than 3 million people contact the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-TALK) – a number experts expect to rise when 988 goes live. “Rutgers has operated the New Jersey Hopeline, the state’s suicide prevention hotline, for the past nine years and has experience in answering these calls,” said William Zimmerman, Program Manager for the NJ Hopeline and the new Lifeline national Back Up Center. “The potential benefit of 988 is tremendous. During a crisis, quick access to support and care can prevent death by suicide. This number will also help better reach underserved populations such as in rural areas and communities of color, which can lack mental health services.”

The Lifeline comprises a network of more than 200 local and state-funded crisis centers throughout the United States. Calls are routed to the closest center based on area code.

“However, not every area has a crisis center, and not all centers operate 24/7,” Zimmerman said. “If a local crisis center is unable to take the call, the caller will be automatically routed to Rutgers or another national backup crisis center.”