Contestants of “Celebrity Jeopardy!” were baffled this fall when asked about the new “three-digit national hotline number for suicide prevention” introduced in the United States last July.
“What is 311?” comedian Eliza Schlesinger guessed wrong.
After all, she was not alone. It’s been a year since the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline changed her 10-digit number to 988, but many people don’t know the change or what the hotline offers.
The new phone number will make it easier for callers to get help when they are suicidal, experiencing emotional distress, or facing a crisis related to substance use. However, only 17 percent of Americans said they knew this phone number very or somewhat. investigation The National Mental Health Alliance announced Thursday. Additionally, the survey found that people are still confused about what to expect when they call.
Hannah Weslowski, NAMI’s chief advocacy officer, said many people still think that calling 988 means someone will be dispatched, just like calling 911. talk. “for Majority – Almost all callers do, but they really don’t. ”
Here’s what everyone needs to know about 988 and the challenges that lie ahead as we continue to fund and expand the network.
What should I know about the 988?
The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline three-digit dial code was made available after being received last July. bipartisan support. (President Donald J. Trump signed into law establishing a new number in 2020.) Since then, more than 5 million calls, chats and text messages have been routed to 988, which means the phone number arrived That’s a 66 percent increase over the previous 12 months. new number.
Nearly one million of these contacts were responded to by the Veterans Crisis Line leading to 988.
According to the survey, most people believe or are not convinced that calling 988 automatically dispatches emergency services such as the police, but in fact, out of 911 calls to lifelines, Less than 2 percent need to connect to services such as 988 does not currently use geolocation, so anyone who calls the hotline remains anonymous unless they choose to disclose their identity. One of the driving forces behind the creation of 988 was to reduce reliance on law enforcement and emergency departments to deal with mental health crises and instead build expanded service groups. The Department of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services said:. In some areas, this includes mobile crisis teams and stabilization centers that provide people with a place other than the emergency room.
But you don’t have to be in a crisis or suicidal to call 988 and talk to a counselor. If you need help, our free service is available any time of the day or night.
“Our hope is that people will come to us before they have a mental health crisis,” said Vibrant Emotional Health, a New York-based nonprofit that manages SAMHSA Lifeline. said Tia Doll, chief executive of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at . .
Why do so few people know about it?
A NAMI survey found that most Americans don’t know important facts about lifelines or what to expect if you call them.
This is partly by design.Last year, none of the lifelines about $1 billion One of the federal funds was allocated for public relations campaigns. Initially, proponents and administrators alike were concerned that pushing the 988 too quickly would overwhelm demand.
But the time has come for broader awareness, Dr. Dole said. Vibrant aims to launch a campaign in the fall that aims not only to disseminate information but also to reduce the gap between those who understand and accept 988.
For example, according to NAMI, black people and adults over 50 are the least likely to have heard of 988. pew research A study released in April found similar results, revealing disparities along economic dimensions as well. Wealthy and highly educated people were also more likely to recognize the 988.
What other hurdles remain?
Aside from raising public awareness, one of the biggest problems facing network expansion is long-term funding.
The national network has more than 200 call centers, most of which are made up of low-budget non-profit organizations. Many rely on volunteers and individual donations.
The law that created 988 gave state legislators the option to raise money for call centers by adding monthly charges to their phone bills.but so far only some states I did.
The Biden administration’s 2024 budget includes $836 million in 988, more than $300 million more than the allotted amount. Last year to get Lifeline up and running. But experts say more needs to be done, especially at the local and state levels.
According to Bob Gebbia, chief executive of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 988 could receive as many as nine million calls, texts and chats next year, compared to the number of contacts in the first year. almost doubled.
“This is a significant increase. We want to make sure there are people available to answer calls, text messages and chats,” he said. “We need additional funds.”
Network growth is further complicated by issues such as: shortage Behavioral Health Professional. If the local center fails to answer, the call is routed to a national backup center, which may result in longer wait times or callers simply hanging up.
Finally, the current method of routing callers by area code can run into problems if someone’s phone number doesn’t reflect where they currently live. Crisis counselors who assist people in other states may find it more difficult to provide local referrals.
What is Lifeline doing right?
Lifeline experienced record demand last year, but was able to shorten wait times for counselors to respond.
SAMHSA leader Miriam E. Delphine Littmon said in a statement on Thursday, “This means more people get help and get help faster. It’s extremely important for people who are at risk,” he said.
Before 988 was implemented, it could take minutes to reach someone. According to SAMHSA, his average response time has decreased from 2 minutes and 39 seconds to 41 seconds. However, wait times can vary significantly depending on location and time of day.
Another big change: The new Lifeline invested in responding to text messages and chats.Lifeline used to have capacity It can only handle 56 percent of text messages and 30 percent of chats. So far, recent data indicates that the new Lifeline answers questions such as: much higher percentage Average number of chats and text messages.
Overall, “I’m sure it’s helping save lives,” Gebbia said of 988.
Demand for lifelines is expected to surge in the next few years as mental illness continues to be a major public health problem. Anxiety and depression are prevalent, especially among young adults. KFF analysis Census data show that half of adults aged 18 to 24 will report symptoms of anxiety and depression in 2023, compared to about one-third of adults overall. rice field.In addition suicide rate It has grown 35% over the last 20 years.
In addition to serving the entire population, 988 Lifeline also aims to provide tailored assistance to specific groups. Lifeline now offers an LGBTQ “subnetwork” for those under 25, and this month rolled out Spanish text and chat options.
Additionally, Dr. Dole said Lifeline plans to add a video call service for the deaf later this year.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or visit the link below. SpeakerOfSuicide.com/Resources For a list of additional resources, go to here For resources outside the United States.