National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Interview with John Draper, Executive Director, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Executive Vice President of National Networks, Vibrant Emotional Health
Vibrant Emotional Health. Vibrant administers the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for SAMHSA. The SCE Catalyst grant will be used for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, so subsequent answers are for the Lifeline, not for Vibrant Emotional Health overall.
The Lifeline is a 24-hour, confidential suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress in the Unites States and US territories. Our target population is the total potential number of suicidal persons who might seek help through hotline or chat services in the United States.
New York City, New York
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, across the United States. The Lifeline is comprised of a national standards and best practices. Vibrant Emotional Health administers the Lifeline through a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grant.
Please describe the problem your organization is working to solve and the ways in which your organization’s approach to this work is new or unique.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s mission is to effectively reach and serve all persons who could be at risk of suicide in the United States through a national network of crisis call centers. SAMHSA funded some of the first-ever evaluations that since 2005 have shown how Lifeline centers significantly reduce emotional distress and suicidality in callers. Lifeline sponsored trainings for centers (ASIST) significantly reduce risk in callers more than centers not receiving training. Lifeline policies are effective in reducing imminent risk through less invasive means (76% highest risk de-escalated collaboratively). And finally, Lifeline follow-up calls to persons at risk work: 80% say calls helped keep them safe, with half saying the calls were a primary factor in stopping them from killing themselves.
What are some key accomplishments your organization has achieved.
– During the period from October 1, 2016 through September 30, 2017, the Lifeline answered 1,877,020 calls, including 668,610 that were directed to the Veterans Crisis Line. There were 95,996 chats answered. Crisis chat demand continues to increase greatly. At current rates, about 1.5M users will attempt to enter the chat system, about 35% higher than last year.
– Since April 2017, an average of 400,000 users a month find resources on the Lifeline website.
– Calls answered at the Lifeline in June and July 2018 hit record highs. Combined, those months were the two highest ever – 21% higher than the same months a year ago, and June broke the 200,000 answered call threshold for the first time ever (over 218,000) calls, nearly 40,000 more calls answered than in any month in the service’s history.
– In conjunction with the high profile of the Lifeline service related to media events in the last year, along with CDC reports of rising suicide rates and Lifeline’s reports of growing capacity challenges, the Lifeline is getting more attention from the federal government than ever.
– The National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act passed unanimously through all halls of Congress in July, and was signed into law by President Trump in mid-August.
What obstacles (either expected or unexpected) has your organization faced and how have you addressed them?
The Lifeline is funded by a SAMHSA network and certification grant that supports operation and infrastructure costs but not services. And Americans turn to the Lifeline more and more. Over 12M calls have been answered since 2005 and we expect nearly 12M more answered in the next four years; in 2017 alone call volume was up 60%. Increasing volume causes challenges at local call centers and potentially increased wait times for callers. Increased calls also results in higher telephone costs.
Lifeline focuses on consistently expanding the network by recruiting new centers, and by partnering with agencies such as the National Council of Behavioral Health and NASMHPD, and as well as Lifeline staff members educated stakeholders regarding the importance of supporting their local centers.
What current and future trends have you identified in your field?
In recent years suicide rates have been on the rise and the suicide prevention community has united together and set a goal toward Zero Suicide (see zerosuicide.sprc.org). While increasing rates are disheartening, they have allowed for more open communication about lived experience, which has resulted in more people with lived experience sharing their stories openly, and as result we’re learning more about what’s helpful to those in crisis; and we’re learning that everyone has a role in this public health issue (see www.bethe1to.com).
What advice do you have for others interested in contributing to positive changes in your field?
Focus on suicide prevention, and the message that healing, hope and health are happening, rather than on the rising suicide rates.
For further information, please see: www.vibrant.org/changing-conversation-suicide
How can funders and supporters best help your organization accomplish its goals?
Three things are wanted: financial support, spreading the messages outlined above, and supporting your local crisis center.
Selected Media Mentions
New York Times, “What to Do When a Loved One is SeverelyDepressed”
Good Morning America, “National Suicide Prevention Week: What you can Do to Prevent Suicide”