Suicide hotline 988: What to know one year after launch

Contestants on “Celebrity Jeopardy!” I stumbled across in the fall when I was asked about the US’s new “3-digit national suicide prevention hotline,” which debuted last July.

“What is 311?” Comedian Eliza Schlesinger guessed wrong.

As it turns out, she wasn’t alone. It’s been a year since the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline underwent a makeover, reconfiguring its 10-digit number as 988, yet not many people realize the change or what the hotline provides.

The new number is supposed to make it easier for callers to call for help when they’re having suicidal thoughts or experiencing emotional distress or a crisis related to substance use, but only 17 percent of Americans say they’re very or somewhat informed, according to the poll Released Thursday by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. In addition, the survey found that people are still confused about what to expect when they call.

“A lot of people still assume you call 988 and — like 911 — that means someone will be sent to you,” said Hannah Wisolowski, NAMI’s chief advocacy officer. “to the vast majority – Almost all callers – this is actually not the case.”

Here’s a look at what everyone should know about 988 and the challenges that lie ahead as we continue to fund and expand the network.

The three-digit calling code for the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline became available in July last year after it was received Bipartisan support. (Chairman Donald J. signed new no.

Nearly a million of these calls were answered by the Veterans Crisis Line, linked to 988.

According to the survey, most people assume that calling 988 will automatically dispatch emergency services like the police, or they’re not sure, but in fact, less than 2 percent of Lifeline calls require a call to services like 911. In fact, 988 doesn’t currently use geolocation, so Those who call the hotline remain anonymous unless they choose to disclose identifying information. Part of the impetus for creating 988 was to reduce reliance on law enforcement or emergency departments to handle mental health crises, and instead to build an expanded range of services, The Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Administration said. In some areas, this includes mobile crisis teams and stabilization centres, which provide people with a place to go rather than an emergency room.

But you don’t need to be in crisis or suicidal to call 988 and speak with a counselor. It is a free service available at all times, day or night, to anyone who needs support.

“We hope that people come to us before they go through a mental health crisis,” said Tia Doll, team leader of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at Vibrant Emotional Health, a New York-based nonprofit that runs a lifeline for SAMHSA. .

The NAMI survey found that most Americans don’t know important facts about lifeline or what to expect if they contact one.

This is partly by design. Over the past year, none of the lifelines Almost 1 billion dollars in federal funding earmarked for the public relations campaign. At first, advocates and administrators alike were worried that pitching the 988 early would cause it to be overwhelmed with demand.

But Dr Doll said it was time to raise awareness more widely. Vibrant aims to launch a campaign in the fall that will not only get the word out, but also try to reduce some of the disparities between those who understand and embrace 988.

According to NAMI, for example, black people and adults age 50 and older were the least likely to have heard of 988. A Pew study Similar results were announced in April, revealing disparities along economic lines as well: People who were wealthier or had higher levels of education were more aware of the 988.

Aside from increasing public awareness, one of the biggest issues facing the expanding network is long-term funding.

The national network includes more than 200 call centers, most of which are made up of non-profit organizations with small budgets. Much depends on volunteers and private contributions.

The law that created 988 gave state lawmakers the option to raise money for call centers by adding a monthly fee to phone bills. But only so far a handful of countries I did that.

The Biden administration’s 2024 budget proposal includes $836 million versus $988, more than $300 million over the allotted amount. Last year to start Lifeline. But experts say more is needed, particularly at the local and state levels.

In the next year, the number of calls, texts and chats reaching 988 could reach nine million, nearly double the number of contacts in the first year, said Bob Gebbia, CEO of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. .

“This is a massive increase,” he said, “and we want to make sure that someone is there to answer calls, texts, and conversations.” “We need additional funding.”

Network expansion has been complicated by a loss in behavioral health professionals. When local centers are unable to answer, calls are routed to national backup centers, which can lead to higher wait times or cause callers to simply hang up.

Finally, the current method of routing callers by area code can be problematic if someone’s phone number does not reflect where they currently live. Crisis counselors who help people who live in other states may have more difficulty providing local referrals.

Lifeline experienced record demand last year, but has managed to reduce the waiting time for a response from an advisor.

Miriam E. said:

Before applying 988, it could take several minutes to reach someone. Now the average response time has dropped from 2 minutes 39 seconds to 41 seconds, according to SAMHSA. However, waiting time can vary greatly depending on the location or time of day.

Another big change: the new Lifeline has invested in answering text messages and chats. In the past, Lifeline had capacity to handle only 56 percent of text messages and 30 percent of chats. Recent data to date indicates that the new Lifeline answers a much higher percentage of chats and texts on average.

Overall, “I am convinced it helps save lives,” Mr. Jebbiah said of 988.

The demand for Lifeline is expected to increase in the coming years as mental illness continues to be a significant public health problem. Anxiety and depression are prevalent, especially among young people: KFF analysis From census data, half of adults ages 18 to 24 reported symptoms of anxiety and depression in 2023, compared to about a third of adults overall. In addition, the suicide rate increased by 35 percent over the past two decades.

In addition to serving the general population, 988 Lifeline also aspires to provide assistance tailored to specific groups. Lifeline now offers an LGBTQ “subnet” for those under 25, and this month it rolled out Spanish text and chat options.

In addition, Dr. Doll said that later this year, Lifeline plans to add a videophone service for the deaf and hard of hearing.


If you have thoughts of suicide, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources. He goes here For resources outside the United States.