HomeWorldThe new 988 Lifeline is seeing a huge increase in calls, but...

The new 988 Lifeline is seeing a huge increase in calls, but concerns about police intervention remain, advocates say


On July 16, the national number of lifeguards against suicide changed ten digit to the simpler 988, hoping to make it easier for people in crisis to get help. Two months later, the data shows that there has been a significant increase in calls, but concerns remain about the potential risk of police intervention in critical situations.

published data by the US Department of Health and Human Services on September 9 showed that 45% more people contacted the new National Suicide Lifeline in August 2022 than in the same month last year. More than 361,000 calls, texts and chats reached the service this August, 152,000 more than in 2021.

Despite the sharp rise in people seeking help, response rates and wait times have improved, the data shows. Overall, 88% of calls, chats, and texts were made in August, compared to 67% in August 2021. The average response time for a 988 advisor was 42 seconds, compared to 2.5 minutes in August 2021.

Earlier this month, HHS also announced a $35 million grant opportunity to enhance 988 Lifeline services in tribal communities. In a statement, HHS said the funding “will result in more skilled crisis counselors better able to connect with even more people in need.” The grant is a portion of the $150 million allocated to 988 Lifeline under the bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which was signed into law in June.

Suicide was the 12th leading cause of death in the United States in 2020, according to CDC data. the numbers are even more serious for certain age groups: It was the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 14 and ages 25 to 34 that year, the CDC said.

Although the lifeline’s new number has led to increased call volume, concerns about the lifeline have circulated on social media. Some are even dissuading people from calling, citing concerns about police involvement or forced hospitalization in the most critical situations.

Crisis counselors only contact emergency services “in cases where the risk of harm to themselves or others is imminent or ongoing, and when a less intrusive plan for the safety of the community cannot be collaborated with.” caller or texter,” according to the 988. Lifeline website. Fewer than 2% of emergency calls have led to the involvement of emergency services, and more than half of those dispatches occurred with the consent of the caller, the website said.

But when police get involved in mental health crisis situations, the results can be catastrophic. Hannah Wesolowski, director of advocacy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), told CBS News that police can quickly escalate a situation when a person is in the midst of a mental health crisis.

Someone in crisis may not be able to understand or react to commands law enforcement may be issuing,” he said. “This could be misunderstood by law enforcement officers who don’t have the same training as a mobile crisis team.”

According to a Washington Post record of fatal police shootings Beginning in 2015, more than 1 in 5 people killed by police were mentally ill. More than 1,600 mentally ill people have been shot to death by active-duty officers since the database began, according to the data.

“One of the things that we struggle with a lot in mental health is discrimination against people or stigma around people with mental health issues,” Dr. Sally Ricketts, co-director of psychiatry at Bassett Healthcare, told CBS News. Network. “And in a way, when you put something like this out, you’re identifying that population.”

NAMI created a portal where people can submit their own crisis response stories. One of those people is Sonia, a Georgia mother who said she called the police on her son’s behalf before the triple-digit lifeline was implemented. Police “found him and put him in jail,” she wrote. “He doesn’t deserve jail. He needs mental health help.”

in a blog post For the Well-Being Trust, a foundation dedicated to improving mental health, another woman said that a telemedicine therapist she spoke with in 2021, who was not affiliated with Lifeline, called 911 just minutes after their conversation, despite that he had only shared “vague thoughts I had been having about hurting myself.” The woman said she spent four hours in the emergency room amid the COVID-19 pandemic before she was deemed non-suicidal and allowed to go home.

“When I think about my experience, I feel angry,” she wrote, in a quote also sent to the NAMI portal. “I think about how I, in a very vulnerable state, had to defend myself to prevent my situation from escalating with the police. I think of all the people, especially people of color, who did not and will not have my presence of mind during their times of mental health crisis.”

Lifeline tries to connect callers to the closest call center based on their area code, but that doesn’t always reflect a person’s current location. Unlike 911, 988 does not have access to the precise whereabouts of callers.

The Lifeline website notes that, if necessary, “Lifeline counselors should provide the information they have to 911 operators (caller’s or texter’s phone number or user’s IP address of the chat) so that they can do everything possible to locate the person”.

Dr. John Palmieri, acting director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Office of Behavioral Health Crisis Coordination and 988, emphasized to CBS News in a statement that an extremely small number of calls are forwarded to law enforcement, often with the consent of the caller. , noting that people are not required to provide any personal information to speak with a counselor.

“Those who contact 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline can expect compassionate and accessible care and support for their mental health-related needs, whether they be thoughts of suicide, mental health or substance use crisis or any other type of emotional distress” Palmieri said. .

Many advocates and mental health experts have said that instead of law enforcement, mobile crisis teams should be dispatched in emergency situations. The teams, made up of mental health professionals, can travel to those who need immediate help, reduce crises, and connect people with crisis stabilization programs and other longer-term resources.

Although the use of mobile crisis teams has expanded significantly in the United States in recent years, there are areas where they are not available.

The Biden administration has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to support the transition to 988, including developing more crisis response teams, HHS said. In September alone, the administration will fund $9 million in “grants to states, territories, tribes, and public or private nonprofit entities to create or enhance mobile crisis response teams that can respond to mental health crises in lieu of law enforcement.” order or emergency medical personnel”. ”, according to HHS.

Wesolowski said that many people involved with NAMI have used 988 Lifeline and have expressed relief that they were able to reach crisis counselors quickly and received help. But he said that doesn’t mean the work to get resources to those in crisis is over.

“988 is a part of this process and an entry point, but we need more crisis response,” Wesolowski said.

988 is not “mission accomplished,” he said, but noted that “six months from now, six months after that, we’re going to see a lot more online crisis services that really save lives.”


If you or someone you know is experiencing emotional distress or a suicidal crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

For more information about mental health care resources and support, you can contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. nami.org.



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