1 year later, how is 988 mental health crisis hotline doing? Here's what you should know

It has been one year since 988 was launched as a new mental health crisis hotline for Americans.

Prior to the launch of 988, people in crisis had to dial a 10-digit number (or visit a website) to get services they need, but since 988's launch, help is just a three-digit number away.

"988 is just, really, that really easy numeric way to connect to our crisis system," said Andrew Medina, Crisis Administrator at the AHCCS.

Here's what you should know about 988, and how it has helped people since its launch.

What is 988?

988, according the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline website, is a three-digit dialing code that routes callers to the 988 Lifeline.

"When people call, text, or chat with the 988 Lifeline, they are connected to trained counselors that are part of the existing 988 Lifeline network, made up of over 200 local crisis centers. These counselors are trained to provide free and confidential emotional support and crisis counseling to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, and connect them to resources. These services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, across the United States," read a portion of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline website.

"Roughly, around 85% of these calls are resolved from that first call," said Medina.

When did officials come up with 988?

In our initial explainer on 988, we reported that the three-digit dialing code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline came about via a federal legislation that was signed into law in 2020.

The idea for what would eventually be 988 dates back to dates back to at least 2018, when lawmakers passed a law that required the FCC to study the assignment of a new three-digit number for suicide prevention, in a way similar to how people will call 911 for emergencies, or 311 for city services.

Why 988?

Based on an FCC report to Congress, alternatives were considered for the three-digit dialing code, including:

  • Expanding the use of a currently existing N11 code (211, 311, 411, 511, 611, 711, 811, and 911)
  • A new, non-N11 dialing code

Ultimately, FCC officials noted a number of problems with existing N11 codes, since they are allocated for a variety of emergency and non-emergency uses, and recommended 988 because using the number should reduce the overall implementation timeline for such a number, and that the number would allow for a simplified public education campaign.

How did 988 do in its first year?

According to a January 2023 article published by the Associated Press, over two million calls, texts, and chat messages poured in during the first six months of 988's launch. In addition, the number of call centers answering Spanish calls grew to seven, and a line dedicated to LGBTQ youth started taking calls in September 2022.

Figures from November 2022 show the helpline, across the country, registered 154,585 more calls, texts and chat messages during that month, when compared to the old 10-digit lifeline in November 2021.

In Arizona, 988 received more than 60,000 calls in its first year.

"Nationally and in Arizona, with the 988 number, we have seen a 40% to 45% increase in call volume over the previously existing ten-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline," said Thomas Bond. Bond is the Senior Director of Solari, a Tempe, Ariz.-based company that helps handle 988 call volume.

What were the calls about, usually?

Officials in Arizona said a majority of calls to 988 are for thoughts of suicide, self-harm, anxiety and social concerns.

Certified crisis counselors are able to help that individual immediately.

"So, they will do a safety plan with them, so they are safe, talk them through situations, give them coping skills over the phone, breathing techniques, et cetera," said Bond. "If necessary, we can also send a mobile unit to their location for in-person counseling where the person is, and if necessary, provide crisis transportation to a higher level of care."

What do Americans think about 988?

Figures from a summer 2023 poll conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Ipsos found that 82% of Americans surveyed are not familiar with 988.

However, the same poll shows that four out of five Americans surveyed trust that they would get the help they need, if they call 988.

The same poll also shows half of those surveyed say funding for 988 should be a high or the highest priority for Congress.

Help is available. If you or a loved one is feeling distressed, call or text 988. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to civilians and veterans. Support in Spanish is also available. You can also chat with crisis counselors via online chat.

CLICK HERE for the warning signs and risk factors of suicide.