988, the new suicide prevention hotline, sees a surge in use

For decades, people in the United States struggling with a mental health crisis have typically called 911 for help. But most local law enforcement agencies were not set up to deal with such emergencies, so callers often did not get the help they needed.

In July, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration launched the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which replaced the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The easy-to-remember three-digit number is an improvement over the previous contact number, 800-273-TALK (8255), which will continue to work indefinitely.

Calls to 988 can trigger immediate dispatches from mobile crisis teams – 24/7 – to anyone in mental health crisis, if needed.

The 988 is also set up to receive text messages for people who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired, and online chat is available.

Learn more with the AMA about how your primary care practice can help prevent suicide.

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In 2020, the United States recorded one suicide death every 11 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide was the second leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 14 or 25 to 34.

SAMHSA’s 2020 National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) shed light on the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health in the United States. She estimated that nearly 5% of adults had serious suicidal thoughts, 1.3% had made a suicide plan and 0.5% had attempted suicide in the past 12 months. Among adolescents aged 12 to 17, 12% reported having had serious suicidal thoughts, 5.3% had made a suicide plan and 2.5% had attempted suicide.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on the mental health and well-being of people across our country, and now more than ever, more resources are needed to help those in mental health crisis,” AMA Trustee Ilse R. Levin, DO, MPH, said in June at the 2022 AMA Annual Meeting. help calling the new National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 988.”

At the annual meeting, the House of Delegates asked WADA to:

  • Use their existing communication channels to educate the physician community and the public about the new 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline program.
  • Work with the Federation of Medicine and other stakeholders to advocate for adequate federal and state funding for the 988 system.
  • Collaborate with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the 988 partner community to strengthen suicide prevention and mental health crisis services.

“Studies have shown that after speaking with a trained crisis counselor, most 988 callers are significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed and more optimistic,” a SAMHSA press release notes.

Explore this AMA suicide prevention guide for treating at-risk patients.

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Find out how your primary care practice can help prevent suicide

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a nationwide network of more than 180 local crisis centers in all 50 states that provide free, confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

Calls have grown steadily since the helpline was established in 2005, rising from just over 50,000 to over 2.5 million in 2021. Data from August 2022, the first full month after launch of the new number 988, showed a 45% increase in contacts. volume compared to August 2021. And during the same period, response rates and wait times have improved significantly. The 988 Lifeline responded to an additional 152,000 contacts (calls, chats and texts) and the average response speed for all contacts fell from 2.5 minutes to just 42 seconds.

The 988 website offers resources tailored to specific communities, issues and concerns, including:

The website includes sections focused on best practices and professional initiatives, such as Zero Suicide, a system-wide approach to improving outcomes and closing gaps, and a store with downloadable collateral materials, including flyers, posters and wallet cards.

Check out the AMA’s resources on preventing physician suicide.