988 Lifeline answers nearly 5 million calls, texts, and chats in its first year, including 12,657 in Idaho

DHW Communications

In its first year, the 988 National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline answered nearly 5 million calls, texts, and chats, including 12,657 in Idaho.

The one-year anniversary of the implementation of the 988 National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline was Sunday, July 16. On that day in 2022, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in partnership with Vibrant Emotional Health, connected the crisis call system in the entire United States.

The 988 code replaced a series of 1-800 numbers used by more than 200 individual call centers across the U.S. Now the same dialing code connects all Americans to crisis call support, 24/7. If one center is busy, another answers.

“This came at a good time for people looking for a resource,” said Nicole Coleman, 988 Program Manager at the Department of Health and Welfare’s Division of Behavioral Health. “It’s available 24/7, and you’re talking to a live person. Nothing beats being able to speak to a live person when you feel alone.”

This nationwide partnership improved call metrics across the board for call centers across the country and in Idaho.

  • The average speed to answer decreased from more than two minutes to only 35 seconds.
  • The call drop rate decreased. More calls (45% more) and chats (52% more) were answered.
  • Text message answer rates were up 938% because few call centers were able to answer text messages prior to last year.
  • Of the nearly 5 million contacts, nearly 1 million were answered by the Veterans Crisis Line.

“I feel confident about what we implemented,” Coleman said. “In the first year, with having a short runway, in the midst of all the changes in our department and the world, the 988 project team, as well as our outside partners, did a good job preparing, implementing, and making 988 available to the people of Idaho.”

The Idaho Crisis and Suicide Hotline (ICSH) answers calls placed to 988 in the Idaho. In the past year—July to June—the ICSH answered 12,657 calls that were made via 988. Another 11,179 calls were made to the ICSH not using 988. In total, the ICSH received 23,836 calls, a 10.6% increase from 2022.

“Crisis intervention support is very effective,” said ICSH Director Lee Flinn. “We estimate that with 85% or higher of our phone calls, we are able to support that person, help reduce their stress and keep them safe. We are the front door into Idaho’s mental health and crisis care systems.”

Despite its success across the nation and in Idaho, 988 still faces challenges.

So-called Geo-fencing—when calls are routed to states where a phone’s area code originated—is still a challenge that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is working to solve. There’s also demand for stronger recruitment and retention of behavioral health professionals, as well as a need for stronger funding.

Also, the behavioral health system in many parts of Idaho remains fragmented. Police, EMTs, crisis centers, hospitals, mobile crisis responders, and many other partners in the continuum of care still often operate in silos.

“Connect them all,” Coleman said. “We use 988 as an easy number for people to make contact. We then need to get them to the appropriate resource, and follow-up and make sure the individual doesn’t get dropped.”

At present, 988 is in transition. A lot of people have not yet heard of 988. In the 1960s, when 911 became the universal emergency number, it didn’t become ubiquitous overnight. There is a still a lot to be done in Idaho and across the nation to raise awareness.

“We plan to keep providing the supportive services to Idahoans across the state,” Flinn said of the ICSH. “We are honored to be able to support people from any community in the state, day or night. We are always here and ready to listen.”

If you or someone you love is in crisis or contemplating suicide, please call or text 988 now. If you are a veteran, dial 988 and press 1 when prompted. For more information about 988, visit www.call988idaho.com.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. Learn more at healthandwelfare.idaho.gov.