Health & Wellness

10 Months After Starting, Here's Where the 988 Lifeline Stands

The three-digit code launched July 16, 2022

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Suicide prevention experts are praising the performance of the 988 lifeline, saying the simple three-digit code is expanding access to crisis services nationwide.

“For people in crisis, 988 is a game changer,” said Angela Cummings, executive director of the Illinois chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Illinois has six crisis call centers statewide. In July 2021, the state was last in the country, with only 19% of crisis calls answered in state.

After the 988 launch in July 2022, that number jumped to 81% and new data just released for April 2023 found 87% of calls were answered in-state, the highest ever.

“You can call it and have your call answered in about 36 seconds is the average now, while it used to be close to 170 seconds. So that's a huge improvement,” Cummings said.

Nationwide, people in crisis contacted the 988 lifeline nearly 368,936 times last month. That’s 160,314 more contacts in April 2023 compared to April 2022.

A year over year comparison for the month of April also found calls answered went up by 52%, chats answered increased by 90% and text responses went up by 1,022%.

“I was thrilled, because a lot of the people who do the texting are younger people, and we want to get to them as soon as possible,” said Cara Levinson.

Levinson is the board chair for the Illinois chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Levinson lost her daughter, Elana, 18, to suicide in 2007.

“Not that every minute is occupied with missing her but it's, as you can see, it's, it's still, still there,” Levinson said, tears in her eyes.

Levinson said she can’t help but wonder if the outcome would have been different had the 988 lifeline been available to Elana.

“With anyone who dies, there’s always this feeling, especially with suicide, if… only….” Levinson said.

Levinson was recently at an event where people she spoke with weren’t aware calling or texting the three-digit code, 988, provides immediate access to trained counselors.

“I can't tell you how many people did not know of its existence. That’s a problem,” Levinson said.

She’s determined to raise awareness, hoping to spare another family the pain she feels from losing Elana.

“If it can't be there for her, then her death though, has prompted me to do this work,” Levinson said.

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