Calls to new suicide prevention number rose 45% in August

Calls to the new suicide prevention hotline rose 45%. Photo courtesy of Pixabay
Calls to the new suicide prevention hotline rose 45%. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Sept. 9 (UPI) -- Calls to the national suicide and crisis hotline increased 45% in August compared to last year after the Department of Health and Human Services switched to its new 988 number.

The new 988 number, similar to calling 911, came in July when the HHS rebranded the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline as the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline in July.


The lifeline is operated by the nonprofit group Vibrant Emotional Health on behalf of HHS' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

There were 361,140 calls, chats and texts routed to a 988 lifeline call center in August, according to data released Friday.

RELATED New '988' Suicide and Crisis Lifeline ready to launch nationwide with text, chat options

Most of the calls and texts from people who reached out, about 88%, were answered by a counselor. About 12% were abandoned by the caller before a counselor could answer.

As well as increased call volumes, officials said waiting times and answer rates also improved. It took counselors an average of 42 seconds to pick up each call, which lasted an average of nearly 19 minutes.

"Our nation's transition to 988 moves us closer to better serving the crisis care needs of people across America," HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said Friday.


"988 is more than a number, it's a message: we're there for you. The transition to 988 is just the beginning. We will continue working towards comprehensive, responsive crisis care services nationwide to save lives."

According to the American Psychiatric Association, suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States for people ages 10 to 34.

Suicide rates in the United States increased 30% between 2000 and 2018, according to the CDC, and declined in 2019 and 2020. Nearly 46,000 people died by suicide in 2020.

To lower those numbers, the new 988 serves as "a first step towards a transformed crisis care system in much the same way as emergency medical services have expanded" in the United States, John Draper, the lifeline's executive director and executive vice president of national networks for Vibrant, told CNN.

"We want everyone to know that there is hope. Whether you're experiencing thoughts of suicide, a mental health or substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress, there is compassionate, accessible care and support," Dr. Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, HHS assistant secretary for mental health and substance use.

"With rising levels of anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses -- and the devastating number of overdose deaths -- it is crucial that people have somewhere to turn when they're in crisis."


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