Before You Repost Something Anti-988, Please Read This
TW- Suicide, self-harm, sexual abuse
It's been a bit. I had planned on writing a series about my journey in grief for this week, but this is a more pressing matter:
Last week, a phone number, 988, was launched as a direct crisis line for those in need. It's the same line as before, but with a simplified, easy-to-remember number to expedite the process of reaching out for help.
I was really happy to see this. Over the last few months, I became a trained crisis text line counselor. It's been one of the most difficult, yet rewarding things I've ever done. The process was arduous - hours upon hours of training videos, simulated conversations, and meticulous feedback from our training supervisors.
My first day of volunteering was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. Once I logged on and was connected with my first texter, it became real. I was in a position of delicate responsibility, being trusted to guide a person through their darkest moments.
It's gotten "easier" since. And when I say "easier", I mean solely on the notion that my instincts have gotten better, I'm more confident in what to say, what not to say. What hasn't gotten easier, and likely never will, is the actual work itself. It can be deeply upsetting, triggering, and endlessly scary.
But there is an amazing community and support system within the work. I always have a supervisor who monitors every conversation, correcting me if I don't use the correct language, or miss a step in the process. There are message boards on the platform, where counselors share resources to get our texters the help they need. There has never been a moment, when unsure of what to do next during a conversation, where I didn't feel supported. Someone always has your back.
Over the past few days, I've been seeing people posting anti-988 content. For the most part, I'm seeing the fear of people having the police called on them without their consent, when they are suicidal.
This is completely valid. 100%. There is the risk of having the police show up and mistakenly shooting a person of color, or a mentally ill individual. There is a risk of being hospitalized without insurance. In this line of work, just like any other, there is a chance that something will go wrong.
I'm here to tell you that the chances of that happening are extremely slim. When I texted the lifeline in 2019, my first fear was that an ambulance and police car were going to roar up to my apartment, kick down my door, and take me away in a straight jacket. That was not the case.
One of the first things that happens when you contact a lifeline is an exploration of what is happening in the texter's world, followed by a risk-assessment. It's a four-step process:
We ask if there are thoughts of suicide.
If there are thoughts of suicide, we ask if there is a plan, meaning if they know how they are going to do it (hanging, gunshot, etc.)
If there is a plan, we ask if they have the means to what they need to take their life (rope, gun, etc.)
If they have the means, we ask if there is a timeline (after work, when I hang up, etc.)
It's only once we've gone up what we call "the ladder", do we flag the conversation and get the wheels in motion for a possible "active rescue." I have, thankfully, not had to do that yet. For the most part, people generally don't get this far. Talking about the actual act of taking their life is usually enough to stop them from doing so.
The average conversation lasts between 45-60 minutes. In that time, texters have the opportunity to talk through the issue(s) that have driven them to this point, resources are provided, coping skills are explored, and we commit to staying on with them for as long as they need.
The absolute, positive last-resort is a phone call to the police. I promise you that. And in posting an anti-988 meme, it is only perpetuating the fear that you will get into trouble for reaching out for help.
There are other cases, however, where the mandated reporting goes more quickly into effect - in most cases it is abuse or if someone has active plans to harm someone else. Even then, there is a rigorous, careful process to make sure there is no other path to help the person on the other end.
Before I end, I want to reiterate that the fears being spread are valid. They just are. Mistakes can be made, things can go wrong. It's the real world. But polarizing and politicizing the lifeline will only tear apart this resource that was built to help people in need. Please take solace in knowing that there is a very careful process executed by volunteers who are passionate about helping people in their time of need.
It works. It saves lives. It saved my life.