Since the summer launch of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, the new three-digit number has seen a huge increase in calls – sending more than 2 million calls, texts and chat messages to the call centre, with many being answered under the phone. minute.
Dr. John Palmieri, who is the chief medical adviser for the US Department of Health and Human Services and the Mental Health Services Administration, who works as the deputy director of 988.
The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, was launched last July, replacing the old 1-800-273-TALK phone number with the three-digit number 988. The new number is designed to be easier to remember, similar to how people can call 911 in an emergency.
Since the change, in the past six months, about 2.1 million calls, texts and chats to the new 988 number have been sent to the answering service and, of those, about 89% have been answered by an adviser, according to CNN’s analysis. data from SAMHSA, which administers 988. Most of the unanswered calls were due to callers calling before they could get a counselor.
“We know that there are many people in this country struggling with suicidal ideation, mental illness or substance abuse, who cannot get the help they need. And in many ways, historically, due to lack of funding or other restrictions, the system has failed them. ,” said Palmieri. “Therefore, this is a real opportunity to have 988 – as a useful term – to be able to change the crisis care system to meet those needs in a more flexible, people-centred, treatment and recovery-oriented way.”
Since the summer launch of 988, more than 300,000 calls, texts and chats have come in every month. SAMHSA’s data on the new emergency response shows that in December 2022 versus December 2021, calls answered increased by 48%, chats answered increased by 263% and texts answered increased by 1,445%.
“We see the increase in numbers as a sign that more people are aware of this service and have access to it,” said Kimberly Williams, CEO and President of Vibrant Emotional Health. Thursday.
He added that Vibrant was “not surprised” by the increase in volume and was “working proactively” with more than 200 locations in the 988 network to respond.
“In December 2022 compared to December 2021, more than 172,000 people were answered as part of the livelihood strategies,” said Palmieri.
The average amount of time counselors spent talking, chatting or texting with their clients was 21 minutes and 55 seconds.
“It’s eye-opening to see the number of texts, chats and calls coming in. But to see that many countries have more than 90% responses to those from their countries – and that the response speed is low, so people are getting help quickly,” said Hannah. Wesolowski, director of advocacy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
He also said that before 988 was established, there were probably many people who wanted mental health help but did not feel like there was a service to call them.
“With the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, even though it addressed a number of issues, it was called the ‘National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.’ So a lot of people who are not suicidal but have anxiety didn’t feel like this was helpful for them,” Wesolowski said.
“I think awareness of 988 is growing every month,” he said. “This country is in a serious mental crisis. I believe that many people feel that they are approaching trouble or are in trouble.”
The 988 lifeline has been testing a pilot program specifically for LGBTQ+, in collaboration with the Trevor Project, in which calls, texts or chats from LGBTQ+ youth have the opportunity to connect with counselors specially trained in LGBTQ-inclusive crisis care services. .
The pilot program began in late September, and “there has been a lot of demand and a lot of use of the service,” Palmieri said. He added that LGBTQ+ youth are at a higher risk of suicide.
“With this pilot program, it’s really important that especially a young person who feels alone, who feels alone, can connect with someone who feels they can share their experiences and that comes from a place of understanding,” said Wesolowski. “I’m eager to see what the data shows when the pilot ends in March, but I’m very encouraged by my conversations with the Trevor Project and others involved in this.”
Since its launch, the 988 live channel has also increased the number of call centers that take Spanish calls from three to seven. Spanish-language options will also increase in voice and chat, Palmieri said.
“We are also using video calls for the deaf and hard of hearing,” he said.” In addition, in Washington state, there is a pilot that is currently providing special services to people who are American Indians / Alaskan Natives. They can contact a group that focuses on” children very much their needs.”
HHS announced in December that through SAMHSA, more than $130 million has been awarded to support the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. The money comes from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. The federal omnibus fund includes nearly $500 million for the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, according to SAMHSA.
In total, the Biden administration has invested nearly $1 billion in the 988 initiative.
“Our nation is facing unprecedented challenges in mental health and substance abuse among people of all ages and backgrounds,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in an announcement last month.
“While levels of depression and anxiety were high before the epidemic, the grief, trauma, isolation and isolation that many people experienced during the epidemic exacerbated this. Drug-related deaths have also reached an alarming rate, devastating individuals, families, and communities,” he said. “The additional funding provided by the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act will have a significant impact on improving the health of people and communities across the country.”
The 988 emergency call is just one tool to help improve public health in our country, which Lori Tremmel Freeman, executive director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, calls “the most important public health concern” right now.
“This is also one of the causes of drug use and abuse, which is fueling the global epidemic that we have. We are also concerned about the number of suicides and what we can do to reduce and lower these rates,” said Freeman.
“This is also a major public health problem that is of great concern and leads to many health problems that need to be addressed: homelessness, food insecurity, drug abuse, and chronic illness,” he said. “We need to get people healthy and fit, and connected to the right resources and professionals who can help them deal with their mental health issues.”