Words by Tess Becker
The national mental health and suicide prevention hotline in the US used to be a ten-digit phone number that, without the help of a popular song, was hard to remember in a time of crisis.
With that in mind, the US decided to update the phone number to a three-digit line, similar to the emergency hotline 911 and non-emergency 311.
In July 2022, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline was born.
The change has been a massive success, fielding over 1.7 million calls, texts, and chats over the first five months nearly half a million more than the old 10-digit Suicide Prevention Lifeline fielded during the same period the year before.
“We see the uptick in volume as an indicator that more people are aware of the service and are able to access it,” says Kimberly Williams, the president and CEO of Vibrant Emotional Health, the non-profit that oversees the network of crisis centers that handles the 988 crisis line.
The work itself has also been much better, connecting more people that need help with the resources that can help them.
Federal data shows that the Lifeline responded to 154,585 more contacts in November 2022 than in the same month the year before.
The number of abandoned calls went down from 18% in November 2021 to 12% last November, and the average wait time to speak to a counselor went down from nearly 3 minutes to just around 36 seconds now.
“So more people are being connected to those trained counselors and they're being connected more quickly to the life-saving services that are available,” says Dr. John Palmieri, a psychiatrist overseeing the 988 launch.