The national mental health hotline switched on July 16 from a 10-digit number to an easier-to-remember 988. The first full month of performance data for the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (988 Lifeline) shows a 45 percent increase in overall volume and a significant improvement in answer rates and wait times.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released new data that shows in August, the 988 Lifeline answered 152,000 more contacts (calls, chats, and texts) compared to August 2021 and significantly improved how quickly contacts were answered. The average speed to answer across all contacts decreased from 2.5 minutes to 42 seconds.

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To build on this progress, HHS, through Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), announced a new $35 million grant opportunity to better support 988 Lifeline services in tribal communities, which face unique challenges to accessing technology and crisis services. The funding will provide more trained crisis counselors to connect with even more people in need.

The grant is part of the $150 million allocated for the 988 Lifeline under the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act signed by President Joe Biden on June 25. This investment builds upon the $432 million already provided by the Biden-Harris Administration to support the 988 transition, which includes $105 million in grant funding to states and territories, provided by the American Rescue Plan, to improve response rates, increase capacity to meet future demand, and ensure calls initiated in their states or territories are first routed to local, regional, or state crisis call centers.

Prior to this investment, the Lifeline, which has existed since 2005, had been long unfunded and under-resourced, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in an announcement.

“Our nation’s transition to 988 moves us closer to better serving the crisis care needs of people across America,” Becerra said. “988 is more than a number, it’s a message: we’re there for you. The transition to 988 is just the beginning. We will continue working towards comprehensive, responsive crisis care services nationwide to save lives.”

The need is great. The United States had one death by suicide every 11 minutes in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide was the second leading cause of death for young people aged 10-14 and 25-34. From April 2020 to April 2021, more than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses.

SAMHSA’s 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) estimated that 4.9 percent of adults aged 18 or older had serious thoughts of suicide, 1.3 percent made a suicide plan and 0.5 percent attempted suicide in the past year. Among adolescents ages 12-17, 12 percent said they had serious thoughts of suicide, 5.3 percent made a suicide plan, and 2.5 percent attempted suicide in the past year.

Studies have shown that after speaking with a trained crisis counselor, most 988 Lifeline callers are significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful.

During National Suicide Prevention Month in September, HHS will award $25.3 million in suicide prevention grants–of which $3.7 million comes from American Rescue Plan (funding intended to address pandemic-related stressors that have increased mental health disorders among younger Americans. The grant funding includes:

  • $9 million in Cooperative Agreements for Innovative Crisis Response Partnerships grants for states, territories, tribes, and public or private nonprofit entities to create or enhance existing mobile crisis response teams that can respond mental health crisis in lieu of law enforcement or emergency medical responders.
  • $7.3 million ($3.6 million from ARP and $3.7 million from annual appropriation) in Cooperative Agreements for the Garrett Lee Smith (GLS) State/Tribal Youth Suicide Prevention and Early Intervention Program to support implementation of youth suicide prevention and early intervention strategies in schools, institutions of higher education, juvenile justice systems, substance use and mental health programs, foster care systems, and other child and youth-serving organizations.
  • $2.2 million ($2.1 million annual appropriation and $102,000 ARP) for the GLS Campus Suicide Prevention Grant Program to support a comprehensive public health and evidence-based approach that: enhances mental health services for all college students, including those at risk for suicide, depression, serious mental illness (SMI)/serious emotional disturbances (SED), and/or substance use disorders that can lead to school failure; prevents and reduces suicide, and mental and substance use disorders; promotes help-seeking behavior; and improves the identification and treatment of at-risk college students so they can successfully complete their studies.
  • $6.8 million for Cooperative Agreements for School Based Trauma-Informed Support Services and Mental Health Care for Children and Youth to increase student access to evidence-based and culturally relevant trauma support services and mental health care by developing innovative initiatives, activities, and programs to link local school systems with local trauma-informed support and mental health systems, including those under the Indian Health Service. With this program, SAMHSA aims to further enhance and improve trauma-informed support and mental health services for children and youth.