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More people are dialing the mental health helpline 988 than ever before, new data reveals

The authorities are looking forward to expanding the helpline and making it even more accessible as a step towards universalizing mental health care.

More people are dialing the mental health helpline 988 than ever before, new data reveals
Image Source: Getty Images/Flashvector

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the gaps in mental healthcare across the world. A global survey conducted among 15 to 24-year-olds revealed that the pandemic took a severe toll on their mental health, as reported by The World Economic Forum.  The elderly people are also plagued by grief and anxiety. The lack of universal healthcare makes it difficult for people in poorer countries to access proper treatment. Moreover, stigma about mental health issues also prevents people from seeking timely and proper medical care. However, there is something to feel hopeful about when it comes to accessing mental health care, per My Modern Met



 

The introduction of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline in July 2022 has received almost 500,000 more calls than its predecessor in the same period. Individuals from different locations can connect more easily with mental health professionals by dialing this three-digit number. The former 10-digit suicide prevention hotline was replaced with a simple 988 number under the new FCC rule. Those who are struggling with mental health issues or those who want to connect on behalf of the patients can dial this number more quickly.

The helpline got 1.7 million calls, messages, and chats in its first five months. This is 500,000 more than its predecessor saw in the same time span. When someone dials 988, they are linked to a network of 200 Lifeline crisis centers staffed by certified mental health counselors. These counselors have previously answered calls under the old system but recent government money has increased personnel and capacity under the new regime.



 

According to SAMSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration), the 988 Lifeline answered 172,164 more contacts (calls, chats and texts) and the average speed to answer across all contacts decreased from 172 seconds to 44 seconds. "In December 2022 vs. December 2021, calls answered increased by 48%, chats answered increased by 263%, and texts answered increased by 1445%."

The average wait time was reduced from three minutes to 36 seconds and the percentage of abandoned calls also dropped from 18 percent to 12 percent after launching the new hotline, reports My Modern Met. The text and chat functions appear to be particularly appealing to young people. Dr. John Palmieri, a psychiatrist overseeing the 988 launches for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration said, "We know that texts and chat are modes of communication that are preferred by younger callers, younger people in crisis and that those younger people in crisis tend to be in more acute stages of distress."

 



 

A pilot initiative with the Trevor Project intends to connect LGBTQIAP+ callers with experienced counselors. States have also stepped in to increase money and specialized initiatives. Washington established the Native and Strong Lifeline through which American Indians and Alaska Natives in the state may dial 988 and speak with a culturally competent counselor.

A new phone number does not fix America's mental health crisis. Many people are uninsured, unable to afford treatment, and unable to locate therapists even when they have resources. However, dialing 988 is a vital first step for someone in distress. States are anticipating more funding for the line. The $1.7 trillion end-of-year spending package includes an additional $500 million for the project, per KSWO. The new helpline is a small step towards universalizing mental health care, the need for which is increasing now more than ever.

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