Most US adults unaware of 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline months after launch, survey suggests

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, transitioned last year from 1-800-273-TALK to 988.
9-8-8 Crisis Hotline (FILE)
Posted at 10:24 AM, May 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-25 13:24:29-04

(CNN) — Many adults in the United States say they still have not heard of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which was launched in July.

A survey released Tuesday by the Pew Charitable Trusts suggests that only 13% of adults in the United States are aware of the national 988 lifeline and how it is intended to connect mental health crisis counselors with people who call or text the three-digit number.

The survey of 5,052 adults, conducted in April for Pew by Ipsos Public Affairs, found that once people who were unaware of 988 were informed about its purpose – that anyone can call, text or chat the number to reach a trained counselor – about 7 in 10 said they were somewhat likely or highly likely to use the service.

However, about 2 in 5 adults surveyed expressed concern that calling 988 might result in law enforcement being sent, them being forced to go to the hospital or being charged for services they couldn’t afford, or other people finding out they’d called. The findings also showed that twice as many White adults as Black adults had heard about 988, and people with a college education had more awareness of 988 than those with a high school degree or less.

“There is an opportunity and a need for state and local leaders to launch inclusive awareness campaigns in the months ahead,” Tracy Velázquez, Pew senior manager and lead researcher, said in a statement Tuesday. “The federal government’s most recent investment into 988 shows a commitment to building a strong crisis care infrastructure in the country – one that is critically important given the many people experiencing mental health and substance use issues.”

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, transitioned last year from 1-800-273-TALK to 988, which is intended to be easier to remember, similar to how people can dial 911 for medical emergencies.

Since that transition, the 988 Lifeline has seen an increase in overall volume. Last month, the lifeline answered 160,314 more calls, chats and text messages than in April 2022, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The average speed to answer those calls and messages fell from 175 seconds to 37 seconds.

In April 2023 vs. April 2022, calls answered increased 52%, chats answered increased 90%, and texts answered increased 1,022%.

“We know that there are many individuals in this country who are struggling with suicidal concerns, with mental health or substance use concerns, who aren’t able to access the care that they need. And in many respects, historically, because of funding limitations or other limitations, the system has let them down,” Dr. John Palmieri, a senior medical advisor at SAMHSA who serves as 988’s deputy director, said in January. “So, this is truly an opportunity with 988 – as a catalytic moment – to be able to transform the crisis care system to better meet those needs in a less restrictive, more person-centered, more treatment- and recovery-oriented way.”