There is now a crisis hotline for the US: 988. Could it handle an increase in calls?

There is now a crisis hotline for the US: 988. Could it handle an increase in calls? During the first half of 2022, about 500,000 people contacted the lifeline’s texting and chat lines, but only 42% responded.

In Houston, Texas, on March 7, 2022, Isabelle Row, a crisis line specialist at The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, was speaking about the importance of mental health.

In response to a national mental health crisis, the United States is launching a new suicide prevention number in the wake of a reimagined suicide prevention campaign, but funding and staffing issues have led some to wonder if it is ready for prime time.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 988, which is being billed as the 911 of mental health services, is now available to Americans in distress.

There is now a crisis hotline for the US: 988. Could it handle an increase in calls?
There is now a crisis hotline for the US: 988. Could it handle an increase in calls?

The number, which will go live on Saturday, will be backed by more than $400 million in federal funding to address mental illness’ rising tide in the United States. Short-staffed call centers across the country may not be prepared to handle the surge, but there are lingering concerns.

The lifeline has received many calls in recent months from people who disconnected before receiving assistance.

According to a New York Times data analysis, roughly 18% of lifeline calls placed in the first half of this year were abandoned.

It’s expected that the transition to a three-digit phone number will further strain capacity, as a Times analysis in March found.

There is now a crisis hotline for the US: 988. Could it handle an increase in calls?

In a statement released by the Department of Health and Human Services last week, Secretary Xavier Becerra applauded the efforts being made to prepare for HHS 988 but acknowledged that more work lies ahead.

“Once you have this up and running, there needs to be someone who answers the phone once you get it going,” he explained. A busy signal or being placed on hold simply isn’t good enough.

I don’t want to wait on hold or get a busy signal.”

The lifeline was given a major boost over the past half-year with the injection of hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government.

As a result of the additional funding, the underfunded crisis line – long answered by a patchwork of call centers staffed by paid counselors and volunteers who juggle several hotlines – has been able to enlist an additional 180 telephone banks in different parts of the country, bringing the total to more than 200 telephone banks across the country.

As a result of the funding, Spanish-speaking counselors have also been able to set up national backup centers, enabling them to pick up calls that are unanswered locally, and digital messaging services have also been developed as a means of reaching young people in need.

In the first half of 2022, roughly 500,000 contacts were received by the lifeline’s texting and chat lines, but only 42% of those contacts were answered by the lifeline’s response team.

In spite of this, the data, which is provided by the organization that administers the lifeline, indicate that the response rate has climbed to 74% in June, and the average wait time has decreased from 16 minutes in January to about three minutes last month.

Despite the fact that 988 does have a goal of answering 95% of phone calls within 20 seconds, we have not been able to witness any significant improvement in response rates for phone calls.

There was a lifeline study last year that found that 80% of callers who disconnected within two minutes of the automated greeting did so within two minutes again and that about one-quarter of those who hung up tried again within 24 hours and were successful.

In addition to overseeing the lifeline, Mr. Draper is the executive director of Vibrant Emotional Health, which is the nonprofit that manages the service on behalf of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“Huge increases” have been noted in the response rates to digital messages according to Draper.

With the new investments, he predicted that the call centers would be able to keep pace with the steady rise in phone calls over the coming months, noting that they are already able to keep pace with the steady rise in call volumes due to the new investments.

He went on to say that he wanted to make sure that he responded to everyone in crisis as soon as possible.

According to a recent Rand Corp. survey on public health officials who are responsible for the implementation of the 988 programs, less than half of the officials feel confident that their communities are ready.

In addition to calls, texts, and chats, the lifeline is being revamped in other ways as well. While hotlines have been shown to resolve 80% of crisis situations without further intervention, 988 envision counseling teams connecting callers to mobile crisis teams and short-term mental health triage centers eventually.

According to advocates, those changes are expected to reduce law enforcement interventions and emergency room visits, ultimately saving more lives.

There has been an increase in mental illness in recent years, including what the U.S. surgeon general called a “devastating” crisis among young people. Suicide was the 12th most common cause of death for Americans of all ages in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the second most common among people aged 10 to 14 and 25 to 34. The number of suicides in 2020 will be 11 per minute. Mental health issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic, and the revamped hotline is intended to assist anyone in crisis beyond suicide.

The long-term sustainability of funding for 988 remains unclear despite the projected volume increase. This is partly due to the fact that the law that established it, which was signed by President Donald Trump with bipartisan support in October 2020, left a great deal of responsibility for funding call centers to states.

Only four states have authorized phone bill charges for 988, despite the fact they can raise money for 988 in the same way as 911. The new lifeline has been prepared by many states through grants, general funds, or other legislation.

According to Benjamin F. Miller, a psychologist and the president of Well Being Trust, an organization dedicated to mental health, “988 represents both the best and worst of how America approaches mental health.” “Ingenuity, creativity, positioning define it at its best.” On the other hand, a lack of resources, a lack of leadership and lack of follow-up define it at its worst.”

Because mental health has always been an afterthought in the country, Miller is concerned about funding continuity.

“Instead of investing robustly in the marginalized aspects of our health care, we continue to neglect them,” he said.

In the short term, federal funding had enabled Mental Health America of Greenville County to fill eight new positions. However, she feared that would not be sufficient in the long run. She is now seeking grants and fundraising through a GoFundMe account.

Piver says the center answers more than 80% of calls in the state, but if funding remains the same, “we could see this decline as quickly as 50, 40, even 30%.” The center answers more than 80% of calls in the state, but if funding remains the same, “we could see this decline as quickly It has also been difficult to hire and retain employees due to a national labor shortage. There is a long list of job openings on the website of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

In the mental health field, workforce issues have been a concern “long before the pandemic,” according to Hannah Wesolowski, chief advocacy officer of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. In addition to burnout, the profession itself is a concern, she added.

Since 988 was signed into law, much work has been accomplished, but Wesolowski said, “we are building a comprehensive system, and that’s going to take more than two years.”

A main congressional supporter of 988, Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., said 911, which was established more than 50 years ago, “didn’t start without issues.”
It is still possible that 988 will deliver on its promises despite the uncertainties.

“We must get there since people’s lives are on the line,” said Preston Mitchum, advocacy director for The Trevor Project.

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