American Deaf individuals can now utilize the 988 suicide helpline.

American Deaf individuals can now utilize the 988 suicide helpline.

Expanding the Reach: U.S. Suicide and Crisis Lifeline Introduces American Sign Language Services

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By Cara Murez HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Sept. 11, 2023 (HealthDay News) – The U.S. government’s 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is expanding its reach to help more people. The crisis line has now launched services in American Sign Language (ASL) to help callers who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has recently announced that the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which was launched last year as an evolution from the former National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, has expanded its services to include support for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing by introducing American Sign Language (ASL) services. The move to provide accessibility to behavioral healthcare for a broader audience aligns with the ongoing efforts of the HHS’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Reaching Out to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community

“Individuals across America who use ASL as their primary language can now readily access the support they need during a mental health crisis,” stated Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. The new ASL services are delivered through a videophone device that transmits both video and audio, ensuring effective communication between the caller and the lifeline counselor. This service can be accessed by visiting 988lifeline.org and clicking on the “ASL Now” option. Alternatively, callers can dial 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and soon they will also be able to directly dial 988 by videophone.

The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) expressed their excitement about the availability of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline through video calls in sign language. CEO Howard A. Rosenblum stated, “After years of advocacy to ensure that 988 is available to everyone not only through voice calls, but also texting and video for sign language users, we encourage anyone going through a crisis or thinking about suicide to contact 988 in any way preferred – voice, text, or sign language.”

Expanding Accessibility: A Continual Journey

The introduction of ASL services is another significant step forward in providing inclusive and accessible mental health support for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. It builds upon a previous update that added Spanish-speaking services, including texting and chat. Monica Johnson, director of the 988 & Behavioral Health Crisis Coordinating office at SAMHSA, emphasized the importance of this expansion, stating, “We’re talking about mental health in a way that we have not historically talked about it.”

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, with its network of more than 200 local call centers, was launched to provide assistance to individuals experiencing mental health crises, emotional distress, or contemplating suicide. The lifeline was designed to be easily memorable by dialing only three digits, facilitating access to help when it is needed most. The Biden administration has invested nearly $1 billion in this initiative, with funds going directly to states, territories, and tribes to support crisis counselors.

Raising Awareness: One Call at a Time

Despite the lifeline’s significant impact, there is still work to be done in increasing public awareness of this invaluable resource. A recent survey conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness revealed that approximately 82% of the polled individuals had not heard of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. To ensure that more people can benefit from these services, it is crucial to continue promoting and publicizing the lifeline’s availability.

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline has already handled over 5 million calls, texts, and online chat messages in the past year. By expanding its reach to include ASL services, the lifeline is extending a lifeline of hope and support to an even broader audience.

More Information

To learn more about suicide prevention, visit the National Institute of Mental Health.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, news release, Sept. 8, 2023