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988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline sees increase of 2 million contacts, adds Spanish, LGBTQI+ outreach

988 lifeline It’s been one year since 988, the three-digit Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, went live with trained counselors offering real help in times of crisis.

“Through 988, our message to Americans in crisis is clear: support is here,” said Xavier Becerra, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary. “And thanks to President Biden, millions of Americans have been able to seek out help.”

Nearly 5 million calls, texts and chats have been answered – likely saving countless lives. To date, the Administration has invested nearly $1 billion into this life-saving initiative.

“I have traveled all over the country and talked with young people who got the help they needed, when they needed it most,” Becerra said. “For them, 988 is more than just a number – it’s a person to listen, a person to care.”

On Thursday, Spanish text and chat service was added to the 988 lifeline.

“With the new addition of Spanish language services, we’re enabling native and preferred Spanish speakers an opportunity to talk through their crisis in their chosen language,” Becerra said. “And we will continue to expand the reach of 988 and encourage people across the country, in all different communities, to seek help if they need it.”

Specialized services for LGBTQI+ youth and young adults were also added earlier this month, following a successful pilot test.

The 988 Lifeline also uses Language Line Solutions to provide translation services in more than 240 additional languages. Later this year, the 988 Lifeline plans to add video phone service to better serve deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

According to HHS, nearly 1 million contacts were answered by the Veterans Crisis Line, where 988 links military members, veterans and their families by pressing option 1.

“There is nothing more important to VA than preventing Veteran suicide – and that means getting Veterans the support they need, exactly when they need it,” said Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough.

The 988 Lifeline, a network of more than 200 state and local call centers supported by HHS through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, received 2 million more contacts than the Lifeline received in the previous 12 months.

Compared to the 12 months prior, text contacts through the Lifeline increased by 1135 percent, chats answered increased by 141 percent and calls answered increased by 46 percent. Average speed to answer for contacts decreased from 2 minutes and 39 seconds to 41 seconds.

Studies have shown that after speaking with a trained crisis counselor, most callers are significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed and more hopeful.

“The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a life-saving resource,” said Deputy Secretary Andrea Palm. “We are facing a behavioral health crisis in this country. With our continued investment in 988, and the addition of Spanish language text and chat services, we are furthering our commitment to addressing this crisis head on.”

More than $200 million in 988 Lifeline grants will be awarded in late Fiscal Year 2023 to support states, territories and tribes as they continue to build out local capacity for crisis services and connect with more people in need.

The concept for 988 was first proposed to Congress by the Federal Communications Commission in August 2019 as a nationwide, easy-to-remember, three-digit dialing code for individuals in crisis to connect with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, signed into law after the passage of bipartisan legislation in 2020, authorized 988 as the new three-digit number for suicide and mental health crisis.

“When the FCC started our work on 988 several years ago, I encouraged our agency to explore incorporating texting into the Lifeline. It shouldn’t make a difference how you reach out in an emergency, but that you can connect to mental health resources, no matter how you communicate,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “In the past year, both text and chat have become an integral part of the 988 Lifeline. And now, that reach is further expanded to Spanish speakers, who can communicate in Spanish by text and chat for the first time. I’m extremely proud of the work that our agencies have done to make this life-saving service more accessible to those who need it most.”

988 hotline

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org.

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Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.