Every year US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline centers covertly trace tens of thousands of confidential calls, and police come to homes, schools, and workplaces to forcibly take callers to psychiatric hospitals. Some people’s lives get upended.


Public support for the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is soaring. In 2017, the rapper Logic released a Grammy-nominated song titled with the Lifeline’s 800-number that peaked at No. 3 on Billboard. Since then, call volumes have increased more than 25% as bloggers, vloggers, health zines, and news media from BuzzFeed to USA Today have run promotional stories. COVID-19 pushes volumes higher. Recently the federal government passed legislation mandating that, by 2022, all calls to “988” will be routed to the Lifeline—and some telecommunications companies have already begun implementation.

Driving much of this is growing awareness that calling 911 for issues of emotional distress can lead to deadly police interventions. Yet under-reported and under-investigated is the fact that calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL)—which prominently advertises itself as “confidential”—are often covertly traced. Callers get subjected to police interventions and forced psychiatric hospitalizations. Police shootings occur. Many callers describe their experiences as terrifying and traumatizing, and say the betrayal has made them feel more isolated than ever. And if 988 is implemented as currently planned, insiders say, every independent crisis call center in America could soon feel pressured to join the NSPL and trace calls.

NSPL call-tracing has been practiced for years. But inquiring journalists are told it occurs only in “rare” situations of impending death, and are asked to avoid frightening people from seeking help. Complaints on social media, however, are increasingly visible. For example, below this therapist’s video promoting the Lifeline, amid many testimonials about positive conversations there erupts a never-ending stream of comments from people—including children—devastated after their calls were traced.

Read the rest of this article at Mad in America.

See the documentation obtained through freedom of information requests here.

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  1. Bonnie S. D. May 30, 2023 at 1:53 pm - Reply

    Terrible development, for help lines to lie about confidentiality and possibly get police involved in a mental health issue AND possibly result in forced hospitalization AND “medication”! Has any best pressure point been selected or identified for directing objections to this trend?

    • Rob Wipond May 30, 2023 at 3:47 pm - Reply

      Trans Lifeline in the U.S. has been trying to lead a campaign for public education and change, and networking like-minded organizations. I think more social media and media attention on the issue will help — “honest disclosure” would seem to be the most feasible working compromise.

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