1 year with 988 crisis line brings both success and challenges, more funding ahead

Calls to Suicide and Crisis Lifeline increase since switch to 988

Calls to Suicide and Crisis Lifeline increase since switch to 988

One year into the new 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and mental health experts say it’s been both a success and a challenge.

Reasons for the success include an increase of people reaching out to all platforms of the life-saving line, but keeping up with the demand has been a challenge.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, when the support line changed from a 10-digit number to three digits in July 2022, the number of calls jumped by more than 1,400.

“We’ve almost doubled in size, in terms of our actual employees, in terms of our call staff in the last year. So that’s really, really helped,” Parker Roth, an assistant manager on the 988 team with the Greater Twin Cities United Way, said.

Roth and their team oversee 988 calls in the metro — they say there was an instant increase in the number of calls when the number changed.

“Keeping up with demand has been hard,” Roth said.

Help to address that need is on the way. During the last legislative session, lawmakers approved a telecom fee to fund 988, similar to how 911 is funded.

“The implementation of that telecom fee is just going to be a game changer. Because it creates a sustainable funding model for this work moving forward,” Shannah Mulvihill, executive director of Mental Health Minnesota, said.

Set to begin in 2024, Mulvihill says the telecom fee will be capped at $0.25 per month — for both landline and cell phones — and will bring in close to $10,000,000 annually to support 988 centers in Minnesota.

Mulvihill’s organization recently opened a first of its kind for Minnesota — a text and chat-only 988 center. Before that, texts were getting answered from out-of-state centers.

“We have a big increase in youth mental health needs, and they are absolutely going to text well before they call. And we want to answer those here in the state,” Mulvihill said.

Mental health industry leaders hope that the steady stream of funding can expand services like that — the money will also go towards staffing and training. They also say that awareness will be key in year two of 988.

Numbers from The Pew Charitable Trusts back up the need to get the word out — a May study shows only 13% of those surveyed have heard of and knew the purpose of 988.

“There’s no point in having a beautiful supportive resource like 988 without people knowing about it,” Roth said. “We can’t help people if they don’t know to call us.”