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988 suicide lifeline expanding LGBTQ services with 24/7 chat and text

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(NEW YORK) — The government-backed 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline’s LGBTQ pilot program is now offering text and chat services 24/7 in what officials are calling a “major step forward” for the multimillion-dollar prevention program.

“We are thrilled that the 988 Lifeline LGBTQ+ pilot line will be expanding services across all modalities,” said Dr. Tia Dole, the chief lifeline officer at Vibrant Emotional Health, which administers the service. “We know that LGBTQIA youth are one of the most at-risk communities for suicide. Vibrant, SAMHSA and 988 want to be there to change that through affirming care.”

“Expanding this service is a major step forward in strengthening 988, the mental health safety net for all people in America,” Dole added.

The lifeline’s LGBTQ-specific pilot program launched in September after an initial $7.2 million investment from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The users have already been able to dial 3 after calling to reach a crisis counselor trained to support LGBTQ youth and young adults, with call services available 24/7, but chat and text had only been available during select hours.

From the beginning of the program in September through Feb. 26 (the most current available data), about 11% of chats and texts coming through the lifeline have been for the LGBTQ line, along with 6% of calls — accounting for about 138,000 total contacts — a spokesperson for SAMHSA told ABC News.

“We want all young people who are experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis or who are feeling suicidal to know they can call, text or chat 988 any time of day without fear of judgment and with the expectation that when they do reach out for help, they are met with affirming, compassionate support,” said Dr. Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, the head of SAMHSA. “So far, the demand for the services provided by this pilot program have exceeded even our own expectations. This response has shown us the value in providing a specialized service for LGBTQI+ young people, who we know are at higher risk for suicide.”

In January, $29.7 million in additional money was appropriated to help expand training and access for this program through the fiscal year 2023 federal government funding bill.

About 45% of LGBQ students seriously considered suicide and more than 20% attempted suicide in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey trends report for 2011-2021. That compares to about 15% of heterosexual students who seriously considered suicide and about 6% who made an attempt during that same year, according to the CDC report.

Kasey Suffredini, vice president of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ suicide prevention group, said that his organization is “incredibly excited” about the expansion of the chat and text offerings.

“Increasing access to LGBTQ-inclusive crisis care services is critical for addressing the public health crisis of youth suicide, as we know LGBTQ youth continue to face unique challenges, victimization, and barriers to care across all 50 states,” he said.

“When an LGBTQ young person reaches out for help in a moment of crisis — where every second counts — it’s vital that they are met with compassion and care from a trained counselor who understands them,” Suffredini said. “This expansion of services is another step forward in reimagining crisis care in the U.S., as we continue the collective work to raise awareness of the 988 Lifeline among the most marginalized communities and build upon its infrastructure to expand access to non-police crisis intervention responses and long-term mental health, behavioral health and addiction care.”

If you are experiencing suicidal, substance use or other mental health crises, please call or text the new three-digit code at 988. You will reach a trained crisis counselor for free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also go to 988lifeline.org.

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