988 Spanish text and chat
Spanish speakers are now available to help those contacting 988 via text or chat. Photo credit: County News Center

Officials on Thursday announced that the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline now offers Spanish text and chat services in California and across the country.

The 988 crisis line is a network of more than 200 locally operated and funded crisis centers throughout the U.S.

In California, for instance, in cities like San Diego and Los Angeles with large numbers of Spanish-speakers, a Spanish hotline has been available since 2006, according to Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, based in Culver City, one of the state’s leading agencies responding to 988 calls.

However, prior to Thursday’s announcement, chat and text services were only available in English.

Providing a service in someone’s native language “makes it easier and more comfortable” for those with language or cultural barriers, according to Shari Sinwelski, vice president of crisis care at Didi Hirsch.

She added that, particularly if someone is in crisis, “Chat and text can make it easier for people to reach out.”

On Thursday, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra was part of New York City press conference to discuss 988’s new Spanish services.

Becerra called 988 “life changing” and described the program as a “true game changer when it came to mental health and substance-use services.”

In its first year, 988 served 5 million Americans, he added.

To follow up on that success, the Dept. of Health and Human Services sought to “reach everyone,” Becerra said.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that suicide continues to be a significant public health crisis with rates for Latinos increasing 38% from 2013 to 2020.

“The message here is that we’re breaking down stigma,” Becerra said. “We’re letting people know they can reach out. Far too many people don’t know where they can go.”

Becerra also urged non-profits, community groups and young people to spread the word about 988’s Spanish services.

“We have work to do. We want folks to understand that 988 is 911, if you’re having mental health or substance use challenges,” Becerra said.

For people experiencing a mental health crisis, the 988 online chat can be accessed online, in English or in Spanish, or by texting 988.

According to Didi Hirsch, the agency and its 11 crisis-center partners respond to more than 280,000 contacts via calls, texts and chats annually. In California, in 2022 alone, Didi Hirsch responded to up to 1,400 calls a month through their Spanish phone line, Sinwelski added.

– Staff and wire reports