After a Simple Switch, Suicide Hotline Sees a Huge Increase

Last month, contacts with the hotline were up 45% compared to year prior
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 15, 2022 2:00 AM CDT
Updated Sep 19, 2022 2:40 AM CDT
Call 988 for Suicide Prevention, Starting Saturday
Stock photo   (Getty Images / kieferpix)

Update: Since July 16 when 988 became the new suicide prevention hotline number in the US, the amount of people reaching out to it has increased and wait times have decreased, according to a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services released last week. In August of this year, calls, chats, and texts were up 45% when compared with August 2021, USA Today reports. Response times, meanwhile, dropped from 2.5 minutes to 42 seconds. Mental health experts, however, warn that more must still be done to combat the growing mental health crisis in the country, which the COVID pandemic has made worse. Our original story from July 15 follows:

Starting Saturday, anyone across the US can simply call or text 988 at any time to reach what used to be called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Trained mental health professionals will respond, NBC News reports. Now called 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, it will provide free and confidential support 24/7, and will connect callers to local crisis centers. A surge of millions more calls is expected due to the change, the Washington Post reports.

"Trained counselors will listen, understand how their problems are affecting them, provide support, and connect them to resources if necessary," per the website. The Lifeline currently has a 10-digit 800-number, and this three-digit version will be easier to remember for people in distress. It also offers an alternative to calling 911 during a mental health crisis, since 911 callers are typically directed to law enforcement rather than mental health professionals.

"I look at 988 as a starting place where we can really reimagine mental health care,” says Hannah Wesolowski, chief advocacy officer for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The 988 number already works in some areas, but will work nationwide by Saturday. In the meantime, anyone who needs to can still call the old Lifeline number, 800-273-8255, which will remain active even after the 988 number is implemented. You can also text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources. (Read more suicide prevention stories.)

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