July 16, 2023, is the first anniversary of 988, the three-digit number that routes callers to trained counselors at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. A troublesome fact is that only 13% of adults in the U.S. have heard of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline [emphasis added] and know its purpose nine months after its launch, according to a nationally representative survey conducted for The Pew Charitable Trusts.
The 988 hotline is available in every state and all five territories. Calls are automatically routed by area code regardless of caller location. If the local crisis center cannot take the call, it will be routed to a national crisis center. Although a crisis counselor can assist the caller without knowing their location, it can be difficult to comprehend for professionals in the 911 business because we understand the importance of location in providing the best possible assistance to callers.
Calls to 988 are answered by a trained crisis counselor who listens to the caller, understands how their problem affects them, provides support, and shares resources if needed. More than 98% of 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline contacts are resolved at that first point of contact, with no need for additional services to be dispatched. Numerous studies show that most callers feel significantly less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful after speaking to a Lifeline crisis counselor.
While researching for this article, I hoped to find statistics showing 988 had reduced calls to 911 and found none, but perhaps it is too early, knowing that only 13% of adults are even aware that 988 exists. I still believe that the local 988 and local 911 centers need to work collaboratively to ensure that the 988 center knows where to transfer a call when there is an imminent risk to someone’s life and when the call should be transferred. Does the 988 center have policies regarding when the call should be transferred to 911? If the counselor cannot find this caller’s location, should they transfer to the local 911 center and have them use some of their tools to locate the caller or spend time trying to get the caller to reveal their location? These are all important questions that affect your ECC, and by working with your local 988 centers, you can be assured that these calls are handled appropriately.
A final thought, as ECCs across the U.S. are looking for ways to reduce their workload, can 988 be another tool? Consider a joint educational campaign with your local 988 centers, and maybe during next year’s 2nd anniversary of 988, we will have reliable statistics to support this theory.