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988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline Adds American Sign Language Services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Callers

October 23, 2023
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

Note to editors and reporters: B-roll video (MP4 | 314 MB) is available for download and use in reporting, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today announced the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline’s addition of nationwide American Sign Language (ASL) services for people who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing, as part of ongoing efforts to expand accessibility to behavioral health care for underserved communities. Since the July 2022 launch, the 988 Lifeline has received more than 5.5 million calls, texts, and chats, following a nearly $1 billion investment by the Biden-Harris Administration, and will now be available to the millions of Americans who use ASL.

“Individuals across America who use ASL as their primary language can now readily access the support they need during a mental health crisis,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “With the introduction of 988 ASL services, we are taking a significant stride forward in providing inclusive and accessible support for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community. This is a testament to our ongoing commitment to ensure that no one is left behind when it comes to mental health support.”

To connect directly to a trained 988 Lifeline counselor in ASL, callers who are Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, Hard of Hearing, and Late-Deafened can click the “ASL Now” button on 988lifeline.org  and follow the prompts. Direct dialing to 988 from a videophone will be available in the coming weeks, and in the meantime, ASL callers can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) from their videophone to reach ASL services.

The 988 Lifeline is a network of more than 200 state and local call centers supported by HHS through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for anyone looking for help with suicide, mental health, and substance use-related crises.

“With the addition of ASL services, the 988 Lifeline reaffirms its commitment to providing comprehensive crisis care that caters to the diverse needs of all individuals,” said Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Ph.D., HHS Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use and the leader of SAMHSA. “This new service is one more critical step towards making mental health support more accessible and inclusive for all.”

“Millions of people in the Deaf community will now have access to the crucial support available through the 988 Lifeline,” said Alison Barkoff, who leads the U.S. Administration for Community Living. “The addition of American Sign Language services to the 988 Lifeline is another important step toward our goal of ensuring that all Americans – regardless of disability or age – can get the health care and supportive services they need to thrive.” 

“After years of advocacy to ensure that 988 is available to everyone not only through voice calls, but also texting and video for sign language users, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is thrilled that the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is now available to use through video calls in sign language,” said NAD CEO Howard A. Rosenblum. “This critical service was made possible thanks to funding from HHS through SAMHSA towards implementation of the program by DeafLEAD and Vibrant. We encourage anyone going through a crisis or thinking about suicide to contact 988 in any way preferred — voice, text, or sign language.”

“All of us at DeafLEAD are deeply honored to be part of this historical moment. Mental health care is not a privilege but a right. The introduction of 988 videophone services is a reflection of our collective pursuit of a society where no one feels isolated in times of crisis and ensures that the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community have equitable access to a vital and life-saving service,” said Dr. Stephanie Logan, CEO of DeafLEAD.

“The rollout of the 988 ASL services is a testament to our commitment to building a world where emotional support is available around the clock for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing individuals. In a world where communication is the bridge to understanding, videophone provides individuals access to therapists, counselors, and support groups through sign language,” said Dr. Tia Dole, Chief 988 Lifeline Officer at Vibrant Emotional Health. “This serves as a cornerstone in creating an inclusive and supportive environment for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community.”

More information about the ASL service is available online .

The Biden-Harris Administration’s investment into the 988 Lifeline supports the President’s Unity Agenda to tackle the mental health crisis. Much of that investment has gone directly to states, territories, and tribes to hire crisis counselors and improve local response. More than $200 million in 988 Lifeline grants is expected to be awarded later this month to support states, territories, and tribes to continue to build out local capacity for crisis services and connect with more people in need.

In 2021, according to SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 4.8% of adults ages 18 or older (about 12.3 million people) had serious thoughts of suicide, and among adolescents ages 12 to 17, 12.7% (about 3.3 million people) had serious thoughts of suicide.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that in 2021, suicide was the second-leading cause of death for people aged 10–14 and 25–34 years and more than 107,000 people died from drug overdoses.

Studies have shown that after speaking with a trained crisis counselor, most callers are significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org.

Almost 1 million of the 5 million contacts last year were answered by the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL). The 988 Lifeline links to the VCL, which military members, veterans and their families can reach by dialing 988 and pressing option 1.

Individuals who speak Spanish can connect directly to Spanish-speaking crisis counselors by calling 988 and pressing option 2, texting “AYUDA” to 988, or chatting online at 988lineadevida.org or 988Lifeline.org.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI+) youth and young adults under the age of 25 who want to connect with a counselor specifically focused on meeting their needs can call 988 and select option 3, text “Y” to 988 or access the service via chat.

The 988 Lifeline uses Language Line Solutions to provide translation services in more than 240 additional languages.

Reporters with questions should send inquiries to media@samhsa.hhs.gov.

News source: hhs.gov/about/news/2023/09/08/988-suicide-crisis-lifeline-adds-american-sign-language-services-deaf-hard-hearing-callers.html

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