Since the summer launch of 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, the new triple-digit number has seen call volume skyrocket — with more than two million calls, texts, and chat messages going to call centers, with the majority answered under a minute.
“The average answer speed on an annual basis was about three minutes in 2021. It’s now 44 seconds in December of 2022,” said Dr. John Palmieri, chief medical advisor at the US Department of Health and Human Services. and the Mental Health Services Administration, who serves as 988’s deputy director.
The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, formerly the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, launched last July, converting the previous phone number 1-800-273-TALK to three digits of 988. The new number is intended to be easy to remember. Similar to the way you would call 911 for a medical emergency.
Since that transition, in the past six months, about 2.1 million calls, texts and chats to the new 988 number have gone to a response center, and about 89% of those have been answered by a counselor, according to a CNN analysis of data from SAMHSA, which oversees 988. Many of unanswered calls were due to callers being disconnected before reaching a counsellor.
“We know that there are many individuals in this country who have suicidal concerns, or mental health or substance abuse concerns, who don’t have access to the care they need. And in many respects, historically, because of funding constraints or other constraints, The system has failed them,” Palmieri said. “So, this is really an opportunity with 988 — as a motivational moment — to be able to transform the crisis care system to better meet those needs in a way that is less restrictive, more person-centred, and more treatment- and recovery-oriented.”
Since the summer launch of 988, more than 300,000 calls, texts, and chats have arrived each month. SAMHSA data on the new lifeline shows that in December 2022 versus December 2021, calls answered increased by 48%, responses to conversations increased by 263% and messages answered by 1445%.
“We see the uptick in volume as an indication that more people are aware of and have access to the service,” Kimberly Williams, CEO and president of Vibrant Emotional Health, the nonprofit administrator and operator of 988 Lifeline, said in an email. Thursday.
It added that Vibrant was “not surprised” by the increase in volume and that it was “working strategically” with more than 200 call centers in the 988 network to respond.
“In December of 2022 compared to December of 2021, more than 172,000 additional calls were answered as part of the Lifeline system,” Palmieri said.
The average time counselors spent talking, chatting, or texting with contacts was about 21 minutes and 55 seconds.
“It’s really great to see the increase in incoming text messages, chats, and calls. But to see that more countries have a response rate of over 90% for contacts coming from their state — and that the average response speed is just as good,” said Hannah Wisolowski, senior advocacy officer for the coalition. National Mental Illness:
She added that prior to the launch of 988, there were likely many people who were seeking mental health support but did not feel there was a communication service available to them.
“Through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, even though they have answered a range of crises, it has been described as the ‘National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.’ So a lot of people who don’t feel suicidal but are in distress haven’t felt that this He was a resource for them,” Wisolowski said.
“I think awareness of 988 is growing every month,” she said. This country is experiencing a mental health crisis in general. I think a lot of people feel like they’re approaching a crisis situation or they’re in a crisis.”
Lifeline 988 is also testing a pilot program specifically for the LGBTQ+ community, in partnership with The Trevor Project, in which LGBTQ+ calls, texts, or chats have the option to connect with counselors specifically trained in comprehensive LGBTQ crisis care services.
The pilot program began at the end of September, Palmieri said, and “there was a lot of demand and a lot of take-up of that service.” He added that LGBTQ youth are more likely to commit suicide.
“With this pilot program, it is very important that a young person who is feeling lonely, who is feeling isolated, is able to connect with someone who they feel they can share their experience with and that comes from a similar place of understanding,” Wisolowski said. “I’m very excited 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, Lifeline 988 has also increased the number of call centers taking Spanish calls from a total of three to seven. Palmieri said Spanish language options will also increase for texting and chatting.
He said, “We’re also implementing videophone capabilities for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.” In addition, in Washington State, there is a pilot that is currently providing access to specialized care for individuals who are American Indian/Alaska Native to be connected to an institution that is focused more specifically on their needs.”
HHS announced in December that through SAMHSA, more than $130 million in grants has been provided to support the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Funding comes from the bipartisan Safer Communities Act. The overall federal spending bill includes about $500 million for the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, according to SAMHSA.
In total, the Biden administration has invested nearly $1 billion in Lifeline 988.
“Our country is facing unprecedented mental health and substance abuse crises among people of all ages and backgrounds,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in last month’s announcement.
And although rates of depression and anxiety were high before the pandemic, the grief, trauma, and physical and social isolation many people experienced during the pandemic exacerbated these problems. Drug overdose deaths have also reached a historic level, devastating individuals, families and communities. “Significant additional funding provided by the bipartisan Safer Communities Act will have a direct positive impact on promoting the behavioral health of individuals and communities across the country.”
Lifeline 988 is just one tool in the ongoing effort to improve our nation’s mental health, which Lori Tremmell Freeman, CEO of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, describes as a “major public health concern” right now.
It’s also one of the root causes of drug use and misuse, which is fueling the national epidemic we have. We are also of course concerned about suicide rates and what we can do to mitigate and bring those rates down,” Freeman said.
“This is also a primary public health crisis of concern and leads to many other public health issues that need to be addressed: homelessness, food insecurity, substance abuse and poor health outcomes,” she said. “We need to get people to be healthy and healthy, and connected to the right resources and professionals who can help them overcome their mental health crises.”