The National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, also known as the new 988 hotline, has been operational for only six months, and it has already handled more than two million inquiries across phone calls, chats and text messages.
This number far surpasses the inquiries received in the same time period the previous year, when the hotline was 10 digits long.
The old number, previously called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, was established in 2005.
Leaders of the 988 rollout efforts said that the significant usage was not surprising. A large influx of federal cash has helped expand the number of crisis centers across the country — there are now around 200 — and has supported more robust staffing, they said. And the three-digit number is much simpler to remember and dial.
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Kimberly Williams, the president and chief executive of Vibrant Emotional Health, 988’s nonprofit administrator, said that the uptick in call volume was “an indicator” that more people were aware of the service, which she called a “critical front door for people accessing emotional and mental health crisis support.”
“We are serving more people, and we are serving them faster,” Ms. Williams said. “We have made it far easier for people to reach out and access the support they need, and we are promoting help seeking behavior through this easy three-digit number.”
In addition to answering tens of thousands more calls, chats and text messages than in the past, the hotline has also been responding more swiftly and more locally. People once waited several minutes to reach a counselor. Now it takes just seconds to get connected, said Dr. John Palmieri, a senior medical adviser at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and 988’s deputy director.
Texting has been a popular way to reach the hotline, particularly for people younger than 25, Dr. Palmieri said, adding that this age group tended to be “in more acute distress” when they contacted the service.
Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, especially for adolescents and people ages 25 to 34.
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Suicide rates are lower than in 2018, when a record high of more than 48,000 people died by suicide. Suicide deaths declined from 2018 to 2020 but then rose slightly in 2021, the C.D.C. said.
The 988 hotline seeks to connect people in need to crisis centers near where they live. While some states have multiple centers available to answer inquiries, others, such as West Virginia, Nebraska, New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho and Utah, have only one each.
Jennifer Battle, a vice president for community access for the Harris Center in Houston, said that the new hotline had been a “game changer.”
The state and federal investments in the 988 hotline have made a huge difference in efficacy, Ms. Battle said. The Harris Center has been able to hire more counselors to take calls and respond to far more callers from Texas. Last month, she said, they answered 5,000 calls, a 400 percent increase from their past record high with the old 10-digit number.
The Harris Center has taken calls for the lifeline since 2006, she said.
“It’s not just because of the number of people that we serve,” Ms. Battle said, “but because of the expanded recognition of the power of the crisis line service, and being able to get properly resourced, so that we can do the work that we’re so good at doing and serve more people.”
She said that she hoped 988 would encourage more people to feel comfortable seeking help in suicide prevention and in crisis situations.
Having a “three-digit, easy-to-use” number was critical for suicide prevention, she said.
Dr. Palmieri said the hotline had sought to reach communities with elevated suicide rates.