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Bumped, Bruised & Triumphant: the 988 Lifeline Survives its First Year!

988 Lifeline

Bumped, Bruised & Triumphant: the 988 Lifeline Survives its First Year!

Okay, the numbers have been tabulated. After one solid year we now know the what’s what on the 988 Lifeline (which replaced the  National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). Unfortunately, what we know is not what we were hoping to know. Not even close.

In Texas, for instance, “about a quarter of the 29,116 calls to 988 went unanswered by in-state counselors between April and May.”

So says Axios Houston reporter Jay R. Jordan, who based his report on findings put together by KFF Health.

“Why it matters,” writes Jordan: “These missed calls are happening at a time when most Americans still aren’t aware the 988 national suicide prevention and mental health hotline exists — and even as we hit the service’s one-year mark, few states have established long-term funding commitments to sustain it.

Furthermore, “without more outreach and resources, 988 could languish as the nation continues to grapple with its mental health crisis.”

Meanwhile, in Colorado Axios’ Alayna Alvarez says “nearly 22% of the calls made to the state’s 988 call center in April and May went unanswered by local workers. That’s the 13th-worst rate in the U.S.

In Florida, well, it was 26.3% of 22,234 calls, which, admittedly, was almost double Colorado’s 11,208. Yet still, over a quarter of all calls is a helluva lapse. Especially since those calls concern suicide and other very pressing mental health measures.

988 Lifeline

Yep, it’s been a year since the 988 Lifeline was made official, the National Alliance on Mental Illness wanted to see just how far the project has become. So NAMI conducted a survey, and said survey discovered all kinds of choice data. Here’s a paraphrasing of how New York Times reporter Christina Caron broke it all down:

While most folks believe dialing 988 will automatically dispatch emergency services such as police and rescue, that isn’t the case at all. It doesn’t need to be either. According to the survey, less than 2% of 988 calls required emergency services. Since 988 does not currently use geolocation, the hotline would have a hard time responding ala 911 anyway. Why? The 988 Lifeline allows callers to remain anonymous unless they choose to disclose identifying information.

According to Caron, the good folks at Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) said 988 was created in order “to reduce the reliance on law enforcement or emergency departments to handle mental health crises, and instead to build an expanded group of services. In some areas, that includes mobile crisis teams and stabilization centers, which offer people a place to go that isn’t an emergency room.

But, continues Caron, “you don’t need to be in crisis or suicidal to call 988 and speak with a counselor.” The free service is available at all hours, day or night, for anyone who needs support.

Dr. Tia Dole wholeheartedly hopes “that people will come to us before they are in a mental health crisis.” Dr. Dole would know how crucial such a move would be too. After all, the good doctor heads 988 Lifeline operations at New York’s Vibrant Emotional Health, which in turn handles the Lifeline for SAMHSA.

That’s no criticism though. If anything, it’s further evidence attesting to the fact that stakeholders have the right people running the 988 Lifeline. But if the operators are ace at what they do, why is word about what they do taking so long to be heard?

Where’s the Word

Good question. Turns out, there’s a good answer too.

On purpose.

Yep, that silence you hear wafting across the country was put into play on purpose.


Caron again:

“None of the Lifeline’s nearly $1 billion in federal funding was allocated toward a public relations campaign” during its first year. Why? Because “advocates and administrators alike initially worried that promoting 988 too early might cause it to become overwhelmed by demand.”

Got it? The 988 Lifeline crew didn’t want to get caught short. We get that. But surely it’s time to start spreading the word, no?

Yes, says Dr. Cole. “The time has come to raise broader awareness.” In fact, Vibrant is aiming to start a campaign in the fall that will not only get the word out but also attempt to decrease some of the disparities among those who understand and embrace 988.


Yes, disparities. Like those uncovered in the NAMI survey, which found that “Black people and adults 50 and older were the least likely to have heard of 988.” Or the earlier Pew study which found similar results, as well as a few economic disparities to boot. As in more affluent and higher educated Americans were more likely to have heard of 988.

Perhaps a better question might be “Why were more affluent and/or higher educated people more likely to be aware of 988?”

Why, indeed.

Healing Properties is All for 988 Lifeline

Healing Properties has long believed America needed a comprehensive one-stop way to address suicide and mental illness, and we wholeheartedly support SAMHSA and everyone else behind the 988 Lifeline. We also realize that they’ve taken on a rather Herculean task, and cast no aspersions about there still being some hurdles to clear. In fact, we’re sure SAMHSA and company will get to bottom of whatever needs to be gotten to. Remember, they’re building an entire national emergency help infrastructure. Not just the 988 Lifeline and the call centers to handle it, but the counselors and therapists and emergency personnel who can handle the workload.

It’s far from enviable task. And we’re enormously impressed by how far the 988 Lifeline has come in just one short year. We’re grateful too. Incredibly grateful.

Are you having dark thoughts about life? Could you use some help navigating back into the light? Well, give the 988 Lifeline a try. They’ve got folks in all 50 states just ready, willing and able to lend a hand. And if you wanna talk strictly addiction, well, give us a ring. We can certainly help get you cleaned up and ready to get back into the winner’s circle. Heck, we’ve been doing just that since 2002.

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