Misinformation spreads about new suicide prevention lifeline 988

Sep 6, 2022, 6:00 PM | Updated: 6:27 pm
suicide 988...
Scene from Church video, "Sitting on the Bench: Thoughts on Suicide Prevention." (IRI)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah managers of the new suicide prevention lifeline, 988, say since its rollout — misinformation has spread about what happens when you call.

“There’s been a lot of misinformation about 988,” said Quality Improvement and Training Manager for Community Crisis Intervention and Support Services at Huntsman Mental Health, Amanda McNab.

Much of it, she said, has been around who answers when you call.

“The group that used to – and still does receive – the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number, 1-800-273-TALK, they are the group that’s answering 988.”

McNab admits that with 988 being rolled out nationally, a lot of different groups across a lot of different states may not all be getting the same information. And this is leading to different experiences for different callers. A recent report outlined concerns that have spread on social media.

“Honestly, my biggest concern (with the misinformation) is that people won’t use the service. That poeple won’t call when they need to call,” McNab said.

Law enforcement isn’t automatically dispatched

One big source of misinformation, McNab said, has to do with whether law enforcement is dispatched as soon as someone calls.

“This really isn’t true,” she said.

McNab thinks the confusion has to do with how much the 988 number has been compared to 911.

“Early on there was a lot of discussion about 988 being the 911 of mental health,” she said. “But there are a lot of differences.”

The traditional 911 is for medical emergencies, reaching police, fire, EMTs, or reporting a crime. A call to 911 will often end with help being dispatched.

“988 is to get a hold of your local mental health crisis services,” McNab said.

What happens when you call

In Utah, a trained crisis worker will answer. According to McNab, that person tries to focus on the problem that prompted the caller to contact 988.

McNab says law enforcement is only typically called in when a person may be an immediate threat to themselves, or someone else. A visit by police or other rescue workers is more likely if the caller has already acted on something.

“If someone calls and says, ‘I’ve already taken the medications,'” McNab said. Or, if someone discloses they’re actively near lethal means, like a weapon.

And that individual is not willing or capable — whatever verb you want to use — to create some safety for themselves.”

McNab says in those cases, police can help create a safety net to buy time.

The 988 learning curve

McNab says it’s “always possible” that a 988 crisis worker can misinterpret a caller. They may be expressing concerns for their own safety, suicidal thoughts, or ideations which may lead a crisis worker to believe the caller is at imminent risk — and erroneously send police.

“And … it became a very negative interaction for (the caller),” she said. “So (by telling their story on social media) they are letting everybody know.”

And McNab says, often we only hear those negative interactions.

“The more we focus in on when it goes wrong, the more information we’re going to get about how it always goes wrong,” she said.

“Instead of (focusing on) how less than 2% of the contacts and the calls that we get in Utah actually have law enforcement involved.”

Here’s help

If you or anyone you know are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call 988, the national suicide and crisis lifeline.

Or call 1-800-273-TALK, or the Huntsman Mental Health Institute 1-801-583-2500.

Related reading:



Today’s Top Stories


university of utah...
Mark Jones

University of Utah Health among the nation’s top 10 for 13th year in row

The 2022 Vizient Bernard A. Birnbaum, MD, Quality Leadership Award has ranked University of Utah Health in the top 10 for the 13th straight year.
21 hours ago
intermountain healthcare...
Mark Jones

Name change coming to Intermountain Healthcare next year

In 2023, Intermountain Healthcare will change its name to Intermountain Health.
3 days ago
ovarian cancer...
Simone Seikaly

A new chance for a fighting chance against ovarian cancer

What may be most alarming about ovarian cancer is that the symptoms are there, but they are quiet and can be mistaken for something else.
3 days ago
Lincoln Beach pictured. Two shooting at Utah Lake happened near this beach....
Simone Seikaly

Utah County Health issues warning about harmful algal blooms

Utah County officials have detected high levels of harmful algal blooms at multiple Utah Lake marinas and beaches.
3 days ago
Intermountain milestone 1 million tests...
Mark Jones

Intermountain Healthcare purchases land near Ephraim

Intermountain Healthcare has plans to develop 35 acres of land in the Ephraim area into a new hospital.
4 days ago
At 5800 So. 1400 W. you find an irrigation canal that attracts  a lot of waterfowl, seagulls and ev...
Mark Jones

Officials warn of additional cases of avian influenza

With the fall migration of wild waterfowl, state officials are warning bird owners to be prepared for additional cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza or avian influenza.
4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Young woman receiving laser treatment...
Form Derm Spa

How facial plastic surgery and skincare are joining forces

Facial plastic surgery is not only about looking good but about feeling good too. The medical team at Form Spa are trained to help you reach your aesthetic outcomes through surgery and through skincare and dermatology, too.
large group of friends tohether in a park having fun...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

What differentiates BYU’s MBA program from other MBA programs

Commitment to service is at the heart of BYU’s MBA program, which makes it stand out among other MBA programs across the country.
a worker with a drill in an orange helmet installs a door in the house...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

Home improvement tip: Increase the value of your home by weatherproofing doors

Make sure your home is comfortable before the winter! Seasonal maintenance keeps your home up to date. Read our tips on weatherproofing doors.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
A paper reading IRS, internal revenue service is pictured...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Misinformation spreads about new suicide prevention lifeline 988