New 988 Mental Health Crisis Line Sees Increased Usage Since Launch: Shot

A bookmark promoting the emergency number for the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, displayed by volunteers from the Natrona County Suicide Prevention Task Force, Casper, Wyoming, August 14, 2022.

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

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Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

A bookmark promoting the emergency number for the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, displayed by volunteers from the Natrona County Suicide Prevention Task Force, Casper, Wyoming, August 14, 2022.

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

The new 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is reaching out to more Americans already suffering and providing assistance more quickly than the old 10-digit suicide prevention line, which it replaced on July 16.

New data released Friday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed that in August, the first month of 988 operation, there were fewer Lifeline calls, texts and chats than in August 2021. Total volume increased by 45%.

HHS officials said the number of calls answered increased from 141,400 to 216,000, an increase of more than 50%. And the texts answered went from 3,400 in August 2021 to 39,900 in August of this year, a whopping 1000% increase. The number of chats answered on his website for Lifeline increased by 195%.

“Our country’s transition to 988 will allow us to better serve the crisis care needs of people across America,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

Psychologist Ben Miller, an advocate for mental health policy, says the numbers are encouraging.

“As far as data points go, this is good news,” he says. “People are using this line. This is what we want. It will help save lives. That’s what we want.”

Particularly encouraging is the data that shows people wait less to connect to a trained counselor at one of the more than 200 call centers that make up the nationwide 988 network, he said. I will add.

According to HHS officials, as of August 2021, the average response time for calls, chats and text messages is 2 minutes and 30 seconds, which is a long wait for someone in crisis, Miller said. says Mr.

However, in August of this year, that response time was reduced to 42 seconds. He adds that this is a significant improvement.

The Biden administration has invested historic amounts in bolstering 988 infrastructure, with much of that money going toward adding new backup call centers and hiring personnel to answer calls at existing call centers. increase.

“I’m not quite sure how this will play out over time, but to see such a significant increase would require more resources, i.e. more call center staff, and the opportunity to develop a proper infrastructure. We can’t help but attribute it to the fact that we’re seeing more people, so we can reach people more quickly,” says Miller.

Kellyne Diana, 41, a Baltimore resident and mental health advocate, says she has used this suicide prevention line several times, especially during her frequent panic attacks during the pandemic.

“It’s helping us get through dark nights, long nights, scary nights,” says Diana, who recently called 988 to help a loved one or community member in crisis. .

But while the 988 is certainly helping more people overall, it remains to be seen how the system performs in individual states, warns Miller. does not have a state-by-state breakdown.

“There will be huge disparities across the state,” he says.

988 Lifeline is nationally accessible through a national network of call centers, but essentially functions as a national system. Also, how much he previously invested in 10-figure lifelines and related services varies greatly from state to state. Few states have passed legislation to supplement recent federal funding to 988, according to a recent analysis by the National Institute of Psychiatry.

So seeing how individual states are doing is key to understanding which states need more support and funding and how, Miller explained. To do.

The quality of service can also vary among people working in emergency call centers, says Diona, a Harlem, New York resident and member of Fountain House, a social club for people with mental illness. (34 years old) says.

Diona has long struggled with suicidal thoughts and attempted suicide and has frequently called 988 and her previous 10-digit lifeline. (NPR only uses her first name due to the stigma of her mental health condition.)

“I think it depends on who works there and who is on the phone,” she says.

Many calls to Line helped her, but in June 2021, after speaking with a counselor on Line, she felt even more hopeless and attempted suicide.

And despite recent additions to the network, weekend calls are still taking a long time, says Diona.

“Workforce is still a big issue and will continue to be for the foreseeable future,” Miller said. “Nearly every state is looking to hire more professionals to fill the 200+ staff. [call centers.]”

The pandemic has exacerbated the existing shortage of mental health care providers, and many call centers have struggled to hire counselors at their call centers. Very different.

“If we don’t actively seek solutions in recruiting and retaining our workforce, I think we’re going to face even bigger problems in the future,” says Miller.

This is an issue HHS is aware of. Today, officials also announced a new $35 million grant to support 988 services in tribal communities where need is high but where access to care is more challenging. , specifically aimed at adding trained counselors to address the needs of tribal communities.

“The move to 988 is just the beginning,” Becerra said in a statement. “We will continue to work nationally on comprehensive and responsive crisis management services to save lives.”

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