Jul 15, 2022 - News

Texas prepares for launch of 988 mental health line

States that have enacted legislation to implement and fund the 988 hotline
Data: National Academy for State Health Policy; Map: Nicki Camberg/Axios

Americans will be able to reach trained crisis counselors at any time by dialing or texting three digits — 988 — starting Saturday.

What's happening: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline's new 988 hotline will forward callers to one of 200 call centers across the country. It will become the new three-digit number for calls, texts or chats instead of the preexisting number (1-800-273-8255) for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL).

What's new: As the NSPL's name suggests, its focus has long been on suicide prevention, but the revamped 988 system will expand to cover a broader range of mental health crises.

  • The three-digit line will be easier to remember, making it more accessible for those in need of mental health support.
  • But a recent poll commissioned by The Trevor Project found that 69% of respondents had not seen, read or heard much about calling 988 to reach NSPL.

Texas and many other states have enacted legislation related to the advent of the 988 system.

  • Texas Health and Human Services received federal funding and grants, allowing the agency to prepare for the launch and create a roadmap to improve in-state answer rates.

By the numbers: Texas answers the third highest number of NSPL calls in the country, with more than 152,000 calls routed to the state's five centers, a Texas Health and Human Services Commission spokesperson told Axios.

  • The in-state answer rate — or the number of calls from Texans actually answered within Texas — jumped from 23% in January 2017 to 56% last month, according to data from Vibrant Emotional Health, the nonprofit that administers the national lifeline.
  • In 2021, Texas centers answered nearly 60,000 in-state NSPL calls, a 92% increase compared with the calls answered in 2018.
  • "Texas continues to work towards improving the in-state answer rate, despite a significant increase to the total volume of calls initiated in Texas," the health agency spokesperson said.

What they’re saying: Integral Care, the local mental health authority for Travis County, has been part of the NSPL network since 2012 and is "well-positioned" for the 988 rollout, according to Integral spokesperson Anne Nagelkirk.

  • "The addition of 988 will make it easier for people to reach out for help and is an important step to increasing access to timely mental health services," Nagelkirk added.
  • Integral Care, which received 5,172 calls to their helpline in June, currently supports over 70 counties as part of the NSPL network. When someone calls from any of the area codes, it rolls over to Integral's 24/7 helpline.
  • "It's important to keep the calls in Texas so we can refer people to local resources," Nagelkirk explained.

Zoom out: Some public health officials have expressed concerns that the national system won't have adequate funding or staffing.

  • Nationally, one in six of the roughly 2 million calls made to the NSPL were abandoned, the New York Times reported.

Texas is also facing a staffing shortage at its centers, with 127 full-time crisis counselors who answer calls, the state health agency spokesperson told Axios.

  • The health agency is still analyzing call volume projections for future staffing needs and offering sign-up bonuses and incentives for new employees, the spokesperson added.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 — or starting Saturday, you can text message or call 988.

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