Wednesday June 7th, 2023 9:48PM

Callers keep flooding 988 mental health, suicide helpline

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

HYATTSVILLE, Md. (AP) — When Jamieson Brill answers a crisis call from a Spanish speaker on the newly launched national 988 mental health helpline, he rarely mentions the word suicide, or “suicidio”

Brill, whose family hails from Puerto Rico, knows that just discussing the term in some Spanish-speaking cultures is so frowned upon that many callers are too scared to even admit that they’re calling for themselves.

“However strong stigma around mental health concerns is in English-speaking cultures, in Spanish-speaking cultures it is triple that,” said Brill, who helps people navigate mental health crises from a tiny brick building tucked away in Hyattsville, Maryland.

Brill works in one of more than 200 call centers fanned out around the country tasked with answering an uptick in calls day and night from people considering suicide or experiencing a mental health emergency.

With bipartisan congressional support and just under $1 billion in federal funds, the 988 mental health helpline has quickly expanded its reach in the six months since it launched — with over 2 million calls, texts and chat messages pouring in.

The number of centers answering calls in Spanish grew from three to seven last year. A pilot line dedicated to LGBTQ youth started taking calls in September. And plans are underway to keep the momentum going, with the federal government adding Spanish language chat and text options later this year and aiming to expand those services to a 24/7 operation for the LGBTQ line.

When the around-the-clock phone launched last summer, it built on the existing network that staffed the old national lifeline, 1-800-273-8255. The new 988 number is designed to be as easy to remember as 911.

It couldn’t have come at a more needed time: Depression rates in U.S. adults, overdose deaths and suicide rates have been on the rise.

“The call volume is, in some instances, well beyond what we anticipated,” said Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use in the Department of Health and Human Services. “It does let us know that people are struggling, people are having a hard time. Where I feel heartened is that people are getting connected to services and supports, as oppose to struggling on their own.”

The 988 helpline registered 154,585 more calls, texts and chat messages during November 2022 compared to the old national lifeline in November 2021, according to the latest data available.

Texting has been particularly popular, with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration noting a 1,227% increase in texts to the line during that same time.

The Veterans Crisis Line — callers can press “1” after texting or calling 988 to reach it — has fielded 450,000 calls, texts and chat messages, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. By the end of the year, the line had handled a nearly 10% increase compared to 2021.

Calls show no signs of slowing into this year, with counselors answering 3,869 calls on New Year's Eve and the first day of 2023 — a 30 percent increase compared to the previous holiday. The Spanish language line saw an increase of 3,800 calls year over year from November 2021 to November 2022.

Meanwhile, some states are considering unveiling their own lines dedicated to certain communities.

In November, Washington became the first state to launch a mental health crisis line dedicated to American Indian and Alaska Native people. Callers in Washington can reach the line by calling 988 then pressing “4” to be greeted by one of the 13 counselors — all Indigenous people — who staff the phones.

Having fellow American Indians answer those calls is crucial, because those familiar with the culture can immediately decode some terms that others cannot, said Rochelle Williams, the tribal operations manager for Volunteers of America Western Washington, which oversees the call center. For example, she said, when a caller says that a relative is “bothering me,” that sends up an immediate red flag: The person is likely signaling that they’re the victim of a sexual assault.

“Who has a better understanding of native people than native people?” Williams said. “We don’t trust in a lot of government programs. Knowing you’re talking to another Indigenous person is really important.”

Williams wants to add chat and text options next. She hopes Washington’s 988 line for Native Americans becomes a model for others. She’s already given presentations in New Mexico, Oklahoma, Montana and in Canada, which is set to launch its own national 988 this year.

States are expected to receive more money to fund the line from t he $1.7 trillion end-of-the year spending package, which set aside another half-billion dollars for the project.

Still, long-term funding for the 988 helpline is in jeopardy in some states, which have yet to figure out a permanent funding plan for it. While the federal government has poured millions of dollars into the project, states are expected to take over the operation and funding of the 988 line — just as they do with 911 emergency call services.

So far, fewer than 20 states have passed legislation to permanently fund their 988 line, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health Illness.

In Ohio, for example, advocates are pushing for the state legislature to sign off on a 50-cent fee that would be tacked onto cellphone bills, raising roughly $50 million to $55 million every year to operate the line, said Tony Coder of the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation.

“Quite frankly, lives depend on it,” Coder said. “The need for 988 services is more crucial than ever, simply because of the aftermath and the mental health issues from COVID.”

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Health
© Copyright 2023 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Georgia becomes 12th back-to-back champ in AP Top 25 history
Georgia is No. 1 in the final Associated Press college football poll, becoming the 12th back-to-back national champion in the history of the rankings after routing TCU
12:44AM ( 2 minutes ago )
Bennett, Bowers lead champion Bulldogs' demolition of TCU
Stetson Bennett and Brock Bowers showed off their remarkable partnership one last time in the College Football Playoff championship game
12:41AM ( 5 minutes ago )
No. 1 Georgia bullies TCU 65-7 to win 2nd consecutive title
Stetson Bennett threw two touchdown passes and ran for two scores in the first half as No. 1 Georgia demolished No. 3 TCU 65-7 to become the first team to win consecutive College Football Playoff national championships
12:34AM ( 11 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Sarah Huckabee Sanders to take oath as Arkansas governor
Sarah Huckabee Sanders is set to be sworn in as Arkansas' 47th governor and the first woman to hold the office her father once held
12:06AM ( 39 minutes ago )
Suspect emerges in shooting at New Mexico official's home
Authorities in New Mexico's largest city say a suspect believed to be connected to at least one of the recent shootings at or near the homes or offices of several elected officials is in custody
11:03PM ( 1 hour ago )
Asian stock markets mixed ahead of US inflation update
Stock markets are mixed ahead of a U.S. inflation update that traders hope will encourage the Federal Reserve to ease off plans for more interest rate hikes
10:42PM ( 2 hours ago )
AP National News
Prince Harry accuses Camilla of 'dangerous' leaks to media
Prince Harry has accused his stepmother, Camilla, the queen consort, of leaking private conversations to the media to burnish her own reputation
10:27PM ( 2 hours ago )
Having elected House speaker, Republicans try governing
Kevin McCarthy has passed his first tests as House speaker as Republican lawmakers approved their rules package governing House operations
10:02PM ( 2 hours ago )
House GOP kicks off majority with vote to slash IRS funding
House Republicans have began their tenure in the majority by passing a bill that would rescind nearly $71 billion that Congress had provided the IRS
9:43PM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Online National News
Authorities have suspect in shooting at official's home
Authorities in New Mexico's largest city say a suspect believed to be connected to at least one of the recent shootings at or near the homes or offices of several elected officials is in custody
7:13PM ( 5 hours ago )
Search called off for boy swept away by California flooding
Rescuers have ended the search for a 5-year-old boy who was swept away by floodwaters in central California Monday morning
6:27PM ( 6 hours ago )
Everyone in California's Montecito ordered out amid deluge
Rain-weary Californians grappled with flooding and mudslides as the latest in a series of powerful storms walloped the state, prompting widespread evacuations, toppling trees and frustrating motorists who hit roadblocks
5:58PM ( 6 hours ago )
Top U.S. News short headlines
Charles Simic, acclaimed poet adept at wordplay, dies at 84
Charles Simic, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who awed critics and readers with his singular blend of lyricism and economy, tragic insight and disruptive humor, has died at age 84
8:03PM ( 4 hours ago )
How Republicans are transforming the House in the majority
Lawmakers no longer have to walk through metal detectors before gaining access to the House floor
7:15PM ( 5 hours ago )
Stocks end up mixed on Wall Street after early gains fade
Stocks gave up early gains and drifted to a mixed close on Wall Street
4:34PM ( 8 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
Biden, López Obrador open Mexico meetings with brusque talk
Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador is challenging U.S. President Joe Biden to end an attitude of “abandonment” and “disdain” for Latin America and the Caribbean as the two leaders meet in Mexico City
9:56PM ( 2 hours ago )
Ill. Senate OKs gun ban, House Democrats agree with changes
The Illinois Senate has approved a ban on semiautomatic weapons
9:52PM ( 2 hours ago )
Republicans challenge New Mexico redistricting after loss
The New Mexico Supreme Court is considering a legal challenge to a congressional map that divvies up a politically conservative region of the state
8:26PM ( 4 hours ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
Pfizer's Paxlovid not included in China's national insurance
China will not include Pfizer’s COVID-19 treatment drug in a national reimbursement list that would have allowed patients to get it at a cheaper price, saying it was too expensive
10:19PM ( 2 hours ago )
Trial begins for ex-New York doctor accused of sexual abuse
Federal prosecutors in New York have begun laying out their case against Robert Hadden, a former gynecologist accused of sexually abusing scores of patients over two decades, including the wife of former presidential candidate Andrew Yang
2:14PM ( 10 hours ago )
Lawyer urges jurors to acquit ex-NY doctor in sex abuse case
A lawyer said at the start of the trial of a former New York gynecologist that her client pleaded guilty in state court to sexually abusing patients, but that he's not guilty of federal charges of enticing women to cross state lines to be abused
12:02PM ( 12 hours ago )
AP Health
Texas to execute ex-cop for hiring 2 people to kill wife
A former suburban Houston police officer is set to be executed for hiring two people to kill his estranged wife nearly 30 years ago
12:20AM ( 26 minutes ago )
The Golden Globes return Tuesday in a 1-year audition
After going dark for a year, the Golden Globes return to the air Tuesday on a one-year audition to try to win back their awards-season perch and relevancy to a Hollywood that shunned the awards after an ethics and diversity scandal
12:17AM ( 28 minutes ago )
Israel's Netanyahu races ahead with hard-line agenda
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government has wasted no time implementing its ultra-nationalist agenda
12:16AM ( 30 minutes ago )
Biden, López Obrador, Trudeau meet in Mexico City for summit
President Joe Biden, Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are set to meet for a series of talks on migration, trade and climate change
12:10AM ( 36 minutes ago )
California deluge forces mass evacuations, boy swept away
Rescuers have ended the search for a 5-year-old boy who was swept away by floodwaters in central California Monday morning
12:08AM ( 37 minutes ago )