In 2017, the rapper Logic named a song after the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number: “1-800-273-8255.”
The song was a hit, detailing a conversation between its subject and an operator on a hotline, and went on to crack the top 3 of the Billboard Hot 100.
“I’ve been on the low, I been taking my time. I feel like I’m out of my mind. It feels like my life ain’t mine,” Logic raps.
“The day of its release, we heard the song and saw the lyrics and we thought, this is amazing,” said John Draper, executive director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
But soon after, Draper noticed something more: a high volume of calls to the hotline. Draper brought the call data to researchers who study suicide and mental health.
In a study published in the British Medical Journal this month, the song was associated with a rise in calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
“Overall, we saw about 26-27% increase in calls that year,” Draper said. “The overall water level, so to speak, had risen and largely due — we believe — to the song.”
Researchers linked three events to surges in calls: the song’s release; Logic’s performances at the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards; and the 2018 Grammy Awards. This is an example of what’s called the Papageno effect when a piece of media changes an individual’s decision to die by suicide.
Researchers also found there was some evidence of a reduction in suicides, possibly as many as 245 fewer deaths.
“The present analysis indicates that periods that were strongly associated with an uptick in calls showed a simultaneous decrease in suicides,” the study’s authors wrote.
“We have not established whether calling behavior affected people who did (or did not) die by suicide after the song’s release.”
Still, Draper said the song’s message made an impression.
“I thought it was brilliant how the song never mentioned the service, but just puts the number on there,” he said. “So you first digest the experience of what it’s like to make this call and go through this personal drama that this caller is having. And then, you see a number attached to it … so it takes the person on a journey not only through a story of hope and recovery but a place to go to get that.”
If Logic ever releases a follow-up to that song, it might have a much shorter title. Next July, the hotline changes simply to 988.