“I Want 988 to Be as Familiar as 911”

By Shawna Ryan, T-Mobile StoriesMay 17, 2023

This Mental Health Awareness Month, one T-Mobile employee shares her personal story of loss, in the hopes of raising awareness about the 988 emergency lifeline that can provide critical mental health services for those struggling.

Meet April Ryan and hear why she hopes that sharing the story about her brother will help others.

When April Ryan applied to work with the team that is in charge of communicating how T-Mobile is mobilizing for communities during times of crises, securing the promotion wasn't just a professional ambition. It's an extremely personal one as well.

“I was an Experience Manager on the Social Media Care team that was responsible for making sure our frontline was prepared with resources to answer questions for our upcoming launches, announcements, and exciting events,” says April. “Thanks to my time with such a wonderful team, I was given the opportunity to work further with Corporate Communications. After a decade at the company, I’m now a communications manager that amplifies the work T-Mobile is doing for those in need during natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes and wildfires, as well as for those in personal crisis as well. That would include resources like the 988 hotline. May is Mental Health Awareness Month and four years ago my younger brother Kevin died by suicide. I want to get the word out about his story in the hopes of preventing this from happening to other families.”

We spoke with April about her experience with depression through her brother’s struggle, as well as her own following his death, and how working both personally and professionally to raise awareness for 988 is a way for her to honor his memory and the recent anniversary of his passing by helping others suffering from mental health issues.

May is Military Appreciation Month as well as Mental Health Awareness Month. Can you tell us why each is important to you in honoring your brother?

Kevin was the youngest sibling of all three of us. He was the wild child of the family and he brought so much laughter and energy into any room that he walked into. He was amazingly brave. It was really no surprise to any of us when he joined the Navy at 18 after high school. He wanted to be the best he could be and help other people. Kevin also had struggled with depression for most of his life prior to joining the military. It was something that he did not like to talk about because he enjoyed bringing joy to other people.

While I knew that my brother struggled for a long time, I had never personally experienced anything to the degree that he went through daily. After his death, though, I got a taste of it and it's not something that I recognized for what it was at first. He was only 25 years old. I was only 29. I had never set up a funeral before. Talking about mental health in the same way we openly talk about physical health is so important because depression can kill you if you do not seek treatment.

Can you explain what 988 is and why you think it can be such a vital resource for those in need of help?

I’m a survivor of suicide loss and there are more of us out there than people realize, as suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the U.S. currently, with an average 130 suicides per day. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is an emergency hotline. When you dial 988 you’re connected directly to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a network of approximately 180 local- and state-funded crisis centers staffed 24/7 by professionally trained counselors to help if you’re in crisis. 

It’s an amazing resource launched initially for calls in 2020, and then last year it was announced that you can text to receive the same benefits. I think of my brother, who was a notorious texter and not a phone caller. I am very proud that T-Mobile offers this all free of charge to its customers and I want more people to know. I want 988 to be as familiar as 911. My role in corporate communications is to inform the media to help spread that word to everyone who may need it, either in the moment or in the future. We need to bring this up often, to reach the people who struggle day to day and perhaps hide it or mask that struggle like my brother did. 

What else would you like people to know about Kevin, and even your own story?

They say grief after loss never goes away, right? Four years later, I'm still trying to find ways to cope with that grief. But getting stronger at handling it over time.

I started to ask myself, what would Kevin want? I didn't always have those answers so I felt I had to start asking myself what I would want, because this is my story too.

As I continued on in my career I knew I wanted to join the corporate communications world and when I learned that they are central to getting the word out for the 988 response I said, "That's how I can help." It's something that I can be proud of and know that my work makes an impact.

I was telling my husband about doing this interview and I asked him what he thought my brother would say about it. My brother was a tall man, like six-foot-three inches, and he would often give me an endearing pat me on the head like a small child whenever he was proud of me. My husband said that my brother would probably pat me on the head. And I knew then that I was making the right decision.

My brother was the kind of person who would give you the shoes off his feet. Depression was a lifelong struggle for Kevin, but even at one of his lowest points when he was hospitalized, he still sought to help others, often visiting rooms just to give companionship and lend a listening ear. And while living up to the role model that he set for me, I'm going to do my best to try.

T-Mobile Mental Health Resources

In 2020, T-Mobile became the first major wireless provider to make the 988 emergency lifeline immediately available to its customers, which offers real-time mental health services.

Calling 988 connects customer to free mental health services from professionally trained counselors at the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, now the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. 

In 2022, T-Mobile announced that those customers can also text for that same critical support, too.

Studies show that those who reached out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline were significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed and more hopeful after speaking with a counselor. This service, available to any T-Mobile, Sprint, Metro by T-Mobile and Assurance Wireless customer, removes barriers to accessing help.