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Suicide Prevention Hot Line Stays Busy

The number of Americans calling the government's suicide prevention hot line has increased every year since its launch, say the program's staff, who attribute that to efforts to promote the number rather than a rise in people considering suicide.

Last month, Americans called the hot line more than 47,000 times. In January 2005, when the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) was launched, it received just 1,500 calls, according to director Dr. John Draper.

Draper says the hot line receives, on average, about a 10 percent increase of calls every month. In the past year, nearly 500,000 people have called it.

"The increase in calls does not correlate to an increasing number of people who are in psychogical distress," Draper said.

Although it's hard to pinpoint an exact correlation between promotional efforts and the number of calls, he said, more people consistently call the hot line after every televised promotion. He also credits word of mouth, media reports and online sources.

There were more than 32,600 suicide deaths in the United States in 2005, the most recent year of available data.

Between the years 2003 to 2005, when a similar government-funded suicide hot line was operating, suicide rates remained stable, said Gail Hayes, press officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The hot line is most likely increasingly its outreach to young people through its online promotions. In the past couple years, its begun networking with social Internet sites MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube.

Lifeline has arranged to establishes sites within these networks so people can access its information and help. Also, those who mention "suicide" in their postings to receive an automatic response from Lifeline urging them to call its number, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which sponsors the hot line.

The hot line, administered by the nonprofit Link2Health Solutions Inc., can immediately link a caller seeking help to a trained counselor who is closest to the caller's geographic location, any time of the day or week. Calls to Lifeline and the counseling service are confidential and free. Help for veterans and Spanish speakers is also linked to the hot line.