988 suicide hotline keeping up with call demand despite national claims

January 25, 2024

AZ Family: Data shows suicide rates hit record highs last year. According to provisional data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, early 50,000 lives were lost due to suicide in 2022, more than any other year on record.

A little more than a year ago, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched the 988 suicide and crisis lifeline to try and make getting help easier. The holiday season is a time of year that can be hard for many people. So, what is the hotline expecting over the next month?

National reports claimed 988 couldn’t keep up with the demand this holiday season, but Solari, one of two vendors that service 988, says that’s not true. Solari officials say they expect the call volume to increase after the holidays when people head home and are away from family, and they are prepared to handle all those calls.

Just last month alone, more than 41,000 calls were made in Arizona. The hotline says it has a 99 percent answer rate, with those getting help within 10 seconds of calling. However, a recent survey by the hotline shows that only about 13% of Americans know it exists. That’s why the hotline will soon launch a larger campaign to make more people aware.

Since it went live last year, it specifically targeted only vulnerable populations: youth, minority groups, and LGBTQ. This holiday season, the center expects to see a 30-35% call volume, which it typically gets each month, with even more anticipated after the holidays. “If we continue to see a rapid increase in call volume that requires staffing adjustments or a decrease in federal funding if there is a trim or a cut, we might have to reevaluate whether legislation is needed or some other sources. But AHCCCS has been very good partners with us in ensuring 988 gets off the ground,” said Justin Chase, CEO of Solari.

Though it is having success already, Solari is asking the FCC to change how the calls are directed. Currently, calls are based on area code, so if you have an out-of-state area code or are visiting, you’d be routed based on area code, not cell tower location, like 911. So, if you need emergency services, getting the help you need may take longer.

An important reminder: you don’t have to be in a crisis to use this hotline. If you’re struggling with depression, anxiety, domestic violence, substance abuse, social concerns, or are just lonely and need someone to talk to, Solari says don’t hesitate to call. It can help point you in the right direction to get the support you need.

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