Suicide hotlines frequently are underused by those who need them most because people are simply unaware of them, says Austin obstetrician-gynecologist Kimberly Carter, MD.
But physicians can help rectify that by providing patients with information about national suicide and maternal mental health hotlines and by discussing them during office visits, urges Dr. Carter, a member of the Texas Medical Association’s Behavioral Health Subcommittee and vice chair of the Committee on Medicaid, CHIP, and the Uninsured.
The simplified 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which replaced the longer 800 number in 2022, is a prime example. The hotline allows people to get help via phone, text, or online chat for any mental health-related distress, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
But one year after its launch, 82% of Americans say they are not familiar with it, according to a survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Suicide claimed the lives of more than 4,000 Texans in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which also reported suicide was the second-leading cause of death of youth and young adults that year.
"Suicide is preventable, and no one should go through a crisis alone," HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a Sept. 1 press release recognizing National Suicide Awareness Month. "No program exemplifies our work to prevent suicide better than 988," which has received more than 5.5 million calls, texts, and chats, he said.
Also in 2022, the Health Resources & Services Administration launched a separate National Maternal Mental Health Hotline – 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS (1-833-943-5746).
Texas spends about $2.2 billion each year helping young mothers and their children deal with maternal mental health conditions, according to a 2021 report.