988 mental health crisis line sees major increase in calls, texts and chats in first 6 months, data shows


Since the summer launch of 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifelinethe new three-digit number has seen a significant increase in call volume – delivering over 2 million calls, texts and chat messages to call centres, with the majority being answered in less than a minute.

“The average speed to respond year-on-year was about three minutes in 2021. It’s now 44 seconds in December 2022,” said Dr John Palmieri, a senior medical adviser at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, who serves as deputy director of 988.

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, launched last Julychanging the old 1-800-273-TALK phone number to three digits of 988. The new number is designed to be easy to remember, similar to how people can dial 911 for medical emergencies.

Since this transition, over the past six months, around 2.1 million calls, texts and chats to the new 988 number have been routed to a response center and of these around 89% have been answered by an adviser, according to a CNN analysis of Data from SAMHSA, which oversees 988. Many unanswered calls were due to callers hanging up before reaching a counsellor.

“We know that many people in this country are dealing with suicidal issues, mental health or addiction issues, who cannot access the care they need. And in many ways, historically, because of funding limitations or other limitations, the system has let them down,” Palmieri said. “So it’s really an opportunity with 988 – as a catalyzing moment – to be able to transform the crisis care system to better meet those needs in a way that’s less restrictive, more person-centered, more patient-focused. treatment and recovery.”

Since the summer launch of 988, more than 300,000 calls, texts and chats have arrived each month. SAMHSA new lifeline data show that in December 2022 compared to December 2021, answered calls increased by 48%, answered chats increased by 263% and text messages increased by 1,445%.

“We view the increase in volume as an indicator that more people are aware of the service and can access it,” said Kimberly Williams, CEO and president of Vibrant Emotional Health, the nonprofit administrator and operator of the online service. life 988, in an email. Thursday.

She added that Vibrant was “not surprised” by the increased volume and “worked strategically” with the more than 200 call centers in the 988 network to respond.

“In December 2022 compared to December 2021, over 172,000 additional contacts were answered under the lifeline system,” Palmieri said.

The average time advisors spent talking, chatting, or texting with contacts was about 21 minutes and 55 seconds.

“It’s really eye-opening to see the increase in incoming texts, chats and calls. But to see that more states have a response rate above 90% for contacts coming from their state – and the average speed of response is down, so people get help faster,” said Hannah Wesolowski, head of advocacy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

She added that before 988 was launched, there were probably many people looking for mental health support, but did not feel there was a call service available for them. .

“With the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, even though they responded to a series of crises, it was billed as the ‘National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.’ So a lot of people who didn’t feel suicidal but were in distress n didn’t feel like it was a resource for them,” Wesolowski said.

“I think awareness of 988 continues to grow every month,” she said. “This country is going through a mental health crisis as a whole. I think a lot more people feel they are approaching a crisis or are in crisis.

The 988 lifeline also tested a pilot program specifically for the LGBTQ+ community, in partnership with the Trevor Projectin which LGBTQ+ youth call, text or chat have the opportunity to be connected with counselors specially trained in LGBTQ-inclusive crisis care services.

The pilot program started around the end of September and “there has been a lot of demand and a lot of use of this service,” Palmieri said. He added that LGBTQ+ youth are at a higher risk of suicide.

“With this pilot program, it is so important that especially a young person who feels alone, who feels isolated, can connect with someone who they feel can share their experience and who comes from a place of similar understanding,” Wesolowski said. “I’m very excited to see what the data will show when the pilot wraps up in March, but I feel very encouraged by my conversations with Project Trevor and others involved with this project.”

Since its launch, the 988 lifeline has also increased the number of call centers taking calls in Spanish from a total of three to seven. Spanish language options will also increase for text messaging and chat, said Palmieri.

“We are also implementing video telephony capabilities for people who are deaf and hard of hearing,” he said. be able to be put in touch with an organization more specifically focused on their needs.

HHS announced in december that through SAMHSA, over $130 million has been awarded in grants to support the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Funding comes from the bipartisan Safer Communities Act. The omnibus 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 addiction crises in people of all ages and from all walks of life,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. said in last month’s announcement.

“Although rates of depression and anxiety were increasing before the pandemic, the grief, trauma, and physical and social isolation that many people have experienced during the pandemic have exacerbated these issues. Drug overdose deaths have also reached historic levels, devastating individuals, families and communities,” he said. “The significant additional funding provided by the bipartisan Safer Communities Act will have a direct positive impact on strengthening 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 Tremmel Freeman, executive director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, calls currently “a key public health concern”.

“It’s also one of the root causes of substance abuse and misuse, which is fueling the national epidemic that we have. We’re also concerned, of course, about suicide rates and what we can do to mitigate and reduce these rates,” Freeman said.

“It is also a paramount public health crisis 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 healthy and healthy, and connect them with the appropriate resources and professionals who can help them through their mental health crises. »

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