Apr 20, 2022 - Technology

New suicide hotline number is unknown to most Americans

Illustration of Illustration of person dialing 988 on smartphone
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

With just three months until "988" is launched as a shortcut to the national suicide prevention hotline, advocates are concerned that relatively few people know about it.

Why it matters: Suicide is at its highest level and still rising, with LGBTQ youth more than four times as likely to attempt suicide as their peers.

Catch up quick: Phone service providers are required to route calls or text messages sent to 988 to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) by July 16.

Driving the news: A new poll commissioned by The Trevor Project and shared exclusively with Axios found that 69% of respondents had not seen, read or heard much about calling 988 to reach the Lifeline.

  • While nearly a third of the people polled had seen something about it, Preston Mitchum, director of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, told Axios that is not enough.
  • "Since something is going live that is actually a watershed moment for LGBTQ people, everyone should know about it," Mitchum said. "Frankly, I'm disappointed that the number's just not 100%."

By the numbers: More than a third said they distrust police to be part of the first response to a mental health crisis, according to the poll.

  • 85% said they trust emergency medical services, 77% trust psychologists, 70% trust social workers and 64% trust police officers.
  • Morning Consult surveyed 2,210 adults online to conduct the poll.

The big picture: More marketing ahead of July will help raise awareness of 988, but there are concerns that the expected increase in outreach will strain crisis center capacity.

  • Mitchum noted that $7.2 million in funding to provide specialized services for LGTBQ youth callers has yet to be awarded.
  • "[988] is a great opportunity to really reimagine and transform our crisis care system," Mitchum said, however, "the rubber always meets the road on policy during implementation."

What's next: The Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday announced $105 million in grants to states to help prepare for the transition to 988.

  • The funding can be used to improve response rates and increase capacity to meet future demand, HHS said.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: dial 711 then 1-800-273-8255) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

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