What you need to know about the 988 psychiatric emergency hotline

In the Oscar-winning short film The Phone Call, Sally Hawkins plays a hotline counselor who receives a call from an elderly widower who is trying to take his own life due to an overdose of pills. Despite sympathetic listening and careful detective work to discover the caller’s identity and location, she fails to save his life during their 20-minute conversation, but the two strangers reach a deep and empathetic connection. The film is fictional and has some dramatic power, but the profound impact a hotline can have on someone’s life is very real.

In a study that sampled thousands of calls to emergency hotlines, more than half of the callers had already attempted suicide, and 8% were in the midst of an attempt at the time of the call. After some time and thought, most callers believe that the hotline has something to do with them being alive; communication with a counselor on the hotline reduced feelings of hopelessness, psychological pain, and thoughts of suicide.

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