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988: Calls to the suicide prevention line increased by 45% after the launch of the new number

On Friday, HHS published performance data detailing the number of calls, chats and texts made to the 988 lifeline in the month of August, as well as the portion of said contacts that were attended.

The data shows that in August, a total of 361,140 calls, chats and text messages were routed to a 988 Lifeline call center. Between them, 84% of calls, 97% of chats, and 98% of texts were answered and engaged by a counselor, totaling about 88% of people who reached out to them. the life line. The remaining 12% were unplugged before being hired by a counselor, according to the data.

On average, calls, chats, or texts took about 42 seconds to answer after an automated greeting, and the average amount of time counselors spent talking, chatting, or texting with contacts was approximately 18 minutes and 49 seconds.

“Our nation’s transition to 988 brings us closer to better serving the crisis care needs of people across the United States,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said Friday. “988 is more than a number, it’s a message: We are there for you. The transition to 988 is just the beginning. We will continue to work toward comprehensive and responsive crisis services across the country to save lives.”

On July 16, the nonprofit organization Vibrant Emotional Health, which operates the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on behalf of the HHS Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), transferred the phone number to the three digits of 988, similar to how people can dial 911 for emergencies. The name of the service was also changed to 988 Lifeline.

Last month, the 988 lifeline answered 152,000 more calls, chats and texts than in August 2021, according to HHS, and the average speed to respond to all contacts dropped from 2 1/2 minutes to 42 seconds .

“We want everyone to know that there is hope. Whether you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, a mental health or substance use crisis, or any other type of emotional distress, there is compassionate and accessible care and support,” said Dr. Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use at HHS and leader of SAMHSA. “With rising levels of anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses, and the devastating number of overdose deaths, it’s crucial that people have a place to turn when in crisis.”

The lifeline has been in operation since 2005. In 2020, the five leaders of the US Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously to end 988 as the service’s new number. Last year, the FCC voted unanimously to require that text messages sent to 988 also be routed to the lifeline.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States for people ages 10 to 34, according to the American Psychiatric Association, and is described as a “serious problem” by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. of public health”.

Overall, suicide rates in the United States increased 30% between 2000 and 2018, according to the CDC, and decreased in 2019 and 2020. Nearly 46,000 people committed suicide in 2020.

To reduce those numbers, the new 988 serves as “a first step toward a crisis care system transformed in the same way that emergency medical services have expanded” in the United States, John Draper, CEO of Lifeline and executive vice president of National Networks for Vibrant, he told CNN.

CNN’s Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.

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