9-1-1: For many of us growing up in the United States, it is the first phone number we memorize. Although we likely can’t recall ever learning them, these three numbers hold great importance in our lives; we are taught from a young age that calling 911 at the first sign of an emergency could mean the difference between life and death.
The choice to use only three digits for the national emergency hotline is highly practical, because 911 can be quickly remembered and dialed in dire situations when people might panic and forget a longer number. For this reason, the Federal Communications Commission wants to establish a new three-digit suicide hotline. If this proposal becomes a reality, many people with suicidal ideations could likewise quickly dial for help in their most desperate time of need.
The implementation of an easily recalled three-digit suicide hotline would expose more people to the possibility of calling in. The trained counselors who answer the suicide hotline offer counseling and active interventions for callers that can truly make a difference. However, the stigma that currently surrounds mental illness leaves many people reluctant to seek assistance, even when they begin having suicidal thoughts. With increased societal familiarity of available mental health resources, people might feel more comfortable asking for help during a mental health emergency.
Logic’s 2018 Grammy performance of his song “1-800-273-8255” suggests that this theory could prove true. 1-800-273-TALK is the current suicide hotline number, which was broadcasted to millions during his performance. As a well-known rapper opening up about finding hope despite his suicidal thoughts, Logic showed many people that their struggle is valid and encouraged them to reach out for help.
The expectation is that making the suicide hotline number three digits and therefore more accessible would have a similar effect. This would be a major step in destigmatizing the need for mental health treatment and hopefully decreasing the number of suicide attempts that stem from mental health conditions.
Although nearly 20 percent of adults in the United States have a mental health condition, over half of adults with mental illnesses remain untreated. Lack of treatment for a mental illness increases the risk of suicidal thinking, contributing to the status of suicide as the second leading cause of death in those aged 10 to 34. Stigma plays a significant role in why a person with a mental health condition may forego treatment, whether the stigma is social or internal. Social stigma in reference to mental health refers to the attitudes of other people regarding one’s mental status. Unfair stereotypes defame the stability, character and intelligence of people with mental health conditions and can result in ill treatment of such people.
When people with mental disorders are exposed to societal prejudices and maltreatment at the hands of their peers on account of their mental state, they may internalize these judgements and begin to feel poorly about themselves and their conditions. This eventuality is known as self-stigma; these people may feel ashamed or undeserving of treatment and therefore never pursue professional help. This is why it is important for mental health resources to become more readily accepted by society.
We rely on police, firefighters, EMTs and paramedics to be there in an emergency because we are taught that they will come rushing to our aid. Most of us would not think twice before dialing 911 to reach those resources if we were in a threatening situation. It is just as important for people going through a mental health emergency to know where to turn. Instituting a three-digit emergency hotline would be a step in the right direction for normalizing the need to care for our mental health.
Veronica Eskander is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com