I Called The Suicide Hotline... And This Is What Happened. Can We Destigmatize Dialing 988 in Communities of Color? By Jessica Bullock, LCMHC-QS, LCADC

By | Nov 3, 2023

I am a therapist who has never called the Crisis Hotline.


What made me decide to call today? …My client’s fear.


The fact remains that black people still mistrust government mental health support and systems. When 988 went live, there were growing concerns about whether or not it would be accepted in African-American communities. With the rate of suicidal attempts increasing amongst black youth, we have to be able to share more information about what happens when you call the number and what to expect to decrease the stigma attached to calling.


Someone told me they were afraid to call the 988 hotline because they did not want them to send ambulances or cops to their homes. As a clinician, I have heard this so many times. In counselor fashion, I continued instructing him on safety and confidentiality and informed him if he felt he was in crisis, this was the number to call.


When I hung up, I started to wonder ‘how can I confidently refer my clients to this number and not know what happens’… so I called.


What is the difference between 911 and 988? 911 is the emergency number used in many countries, while 988 is the new three-digit number designated for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the United States. They identified that it would be easier for people to remember and more likely to call this number, thus improving access to mental health care and crisis. So I dialed 988, and the lady was kind and answered my questions. These are the three things that I took away:


  1. When you call, there will be a short wait. People need to understand that the 988 number supports the Veteran’s Hotline and the LGBTQI+ community, so there are prompts. Once you hear the prompts, you have to make a choice or stay on the line. Then, they must put you on hold until they find someone to answer the call. So, hang tight- if you are in crisis, you may be waiting a few minutes- this is important for my clients to know in case it is a true emergency where police need to be involved.

  2. You do not have to identify yourself or give your location. The goal of this hotline is to provide you with immediate resources and, develop a safe plan with you and prevent suicide. They do not want to escalate the situation and overwhelm police and EMS; they want to work with you. SAMSHA reported that less than 5% of the calls require in-person assistance.

  3. In an emergency with imminent danger, the police should be called. If someone is actively trying to take their life or the life of someone else, 911 needs to be called. This number is for crisis, suicidal/homicidal thoughts/intent- not active attempts.


Believe it or not, there are still not enough people aware of 988. 988 can be used for periods of intense distress or, mental anguish or discomfort. Understanding the difficulties of trying to get an appointment right away with a mental health provider, using 988 can help prevent further mental health decline. Lastly, walking through what happens when you call can assist more individuals with feeling more confident to make the first step and dial the number.


About The Author

Since 2010, Jessica has been the CEO and Founder of LIFE OPTIONS COUNSELING SERVICES (www.betterlifeoptions.org), where she and her team have served thousands of families and individuals. She is passionate about bringing education and research that highlight BIPOC communities. Jessica also enjoys working as a consultant for counseling centers and churches, serves as a board member of several nonprofit organizations, and teaches in higher education. She is in her 3rd year working on her Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision.


#POC Mental Health providers #Minority Mental Health



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