Jul 24, 2023 - News

SF's 988 crisis line sees calls spike 30% in first year

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

San Francisco Suicide Prevention (SFSP) has seen about a 30% increase in call volume since a new helpline went live last year, the organization told Axios.

Why it matters: The development of the three-digit hotline, 988, was designed to make it easier for people to seek mental health help.

  • That 30% increase in San Francisco call volume is consistent with the increases seen in other Bay Area crisis centers that answer 988 calls, an indication that the new hotline is working as intended, Van Hedwall, SFSP's director of programs, said via email.

Yes, but: Over 9% of the more than 58,000 calls made from California residents to the national 988 suicide prevention and mental health hotline went unanswered by in-state counselors during April and May, causing those calls to be directed out of state, per a new analysis from health research outlet KFF.

  • That redirection of calls is happening at a time when most Americans still aren't aware the 988 national suicide prevention and mental health hotline exists — and even as we hit the service's one-year mark, few states have established long-term funding commitments to sustain it, Axios' Sabrina Moreno reports.

Of note: California had the highest volume of calls in April and May, followed by New York (31,016) and Texas (29,116).

The big picture: Since the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline was replaced last year with an easier-to-remember number, 988 has been contacted nearly 5 million times nationwide.

  • Officials, mental health advocates and call center leaders say they're pleased with that number.
  • Still, more than 80% of Americans still aren't familiar with the new hotline, according to a recent National Alliance on Mental Illness survey.

Plans to use some of the nearly $1 billion in federal funding for a nationwide public service campaign haven't materialized, partly due to early concerns that marketing 988 could overwhelm the lifeline past capacity.

The bottom line: "We have to remember, we're at the beginning of what's going to be a marathon, not a sprint," said Chuck Ingoglia, CEO of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing.

  • "It's taken 15 years for 911 to evolve to the kind of system that it is today. We're just one year in."

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