On July 16th a national hotline went live for people who are experiencing or who knows someone experiencing a mental health crisis. 988 is the new way to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Check out the NPR article & interview explaining it here.
This is something that’s been needed for decades.
In 1981, when I was 12, my mother died by suicide. She was living with her mother at the time and I was in another state living with her brother. She had turned guardianship of me over to my uncle. There were a lot of reasons, but underlying them all was undiagnosed and untreated mental illness.
Then, after finding my mother’s body, my grandmother had nowhere to go. So, when my uncle arrived several days later because he had to drive from Oregon to Texas, it was discovered that my grandmother had continued staying in the apartment she had shared with my mom. The only thing that had been done was the body removed. No one came to support my grandmother, find her a safe place to stay, or even come in and help clean the space so she didn’t have to see evidence of my mother’s gruesome demise.
Decades later, I saw the police and coroner’s reports and it was evident that no one had thought beyond the stereotype of a hysterical woman who was depressed over a broken marriage and an estranged child. What no one realized or understood is that, in addition to those things, she likely had Bipolar 1 with auditory & visual hallucinations. Of course, my grandmother was from The South and from the Don’t Talk, Don’t Tell generation and no one talked to me about anything. So, maybe they knew something but just didn’t talk to me about it.
Which was really unfortunate. If I had realized the extent to my mother’s mental health issues, perhaps I would have been able to get my Bipolar 2 diagnosis before my life completely fell apart when I was 44 years old.
I could have used a service like 988, 30 years ago when I had my first brush with suicidal ideation. Instead, I reached out to my roommate from hell, who called her boyfriend, who called his best friend. They brought a fifth of tequila and I woke up the next morning in the bathtub, wrapped in a blanket, without clothing, and no memory of the night before. Perhaps it would have not only kept me from completing my suicide attempt, but also prevented me from waking up without a clue what I had experienced or done the previous night. Maybe I would have been able to connect with resources which would have enabled me to stay in school, or, at the very least, helped me to do more than barely exist inside the depression.
I can’t regret any of these things, because they are what has shaped me to be the person I am becoming and I’m liking who I am more and more. These things have formed the life I have, which, while challenging and difficult, is also full and fulfilling. I wouldn’t have the family I do or the relationships I do or be aware of the people who care about me and who I matter to.
However, I can hope and pray that this 988 service will positively impact the lives of others who are suffering in ways I did and worse, showing that people care and that life can be worth fighting for and living.