The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline announced a ‘historic’ change Friday, with the addition of a video call option for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Callers can now connect with trained crisis counselors who are fluent in American Sign Language.
“I’m thrilled to see that there are other options for us,” said Dr. Darlene Zangara, executive director of the Minnesota Commission of the Deaf, Deafblind and Hard of Hearing. “The direct connection in language will make a world of difference.”
Previously, those with hearing loss who wanted to contact 988 had to communicate through an interpreter or via text chat.
“Oftentimes, that leads to more frustration, especially when you’re emotional,” Zangara said. “It goes back to the basics of having that human factor, that human connection, someone who really understands me and can connect with me.”
It is estimated that 20 percent of Minnesotans suffer from hearing loss, ranging from those who were born deaf to seniors who lose hearing as they age, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services Deaf and Hard of Hearing Division.
“We want everyone, no matter their background, their disability, to be able to access crisis services,” said Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI Minnesota, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “We know that people who are deaf and hard of hearing actually have a greater incidence of depression, especially in older adults because they become more isolated, but they haven’t had a way really to connect with crisis services.”
In 2022, Minnesota 988 Lifeline Centers answered more than 30,000 calls, a 154 percent increase from 2021, according to statistics from the Minnesota Department of Health.
Mental health advocates hope the new ASL option will be a major breakthrough for callers who suffer from hearing loss, allowing them to express their thoughts and feelings more quickly and effectively in the language they are most comfortable.
Use the new sign language option to video chat on a computer by clicking the “ASL Now” button on 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and following the prompts. Video dial 988 directly from a videophone is being added. In the meantime, ASL callers can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) from their videophone to reach ASL services.