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One Year In, And the National 988 Suicide Hotline Is Making a Difference

Over 4.5 million calls, texts, and chats made to the service since it launched in July 2022

When there’s a life-or-death emergency, you call 911 – you don’t stop to look up the 10-digit phone number for the local fire or police department. Why should a mental health emergency be any different? Last July, the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline became 988, and in its first year, millions of people experiencing a mental health crisis used these simple three digits to get quick support.

The hotline provides a free, safe, anonymous space to have a conversation with a trained mental health counselor 24/7. What’s more, 988 also offers support through texts and computer chats.

“As a nation, we are experiencing increased social isolation, financial fallout from COVID-19, and housing insecurity, not to mention racial unrest, increased gun violence, and the climate crisis,” said Jennifer Christian-Herman, vice president of MindBody Medicine at Blue Shield of California. “This is all taking a toll on our mental health and pushing some people into crisis. Having the easy-to-remember 988 hotline has been a critical tool for saving lives.”

Calls to 988 surge

The adoption of the 988 program has been overwhelmingly positive. After the shift from a nine-digit number to three digits, plus a public-awareness campaign, the number of 988 calls, chats, and texts skyrocketed to over 4.5 million since the program launched in July 2022. According to the latest monthly data, in May 2023, nearly 470,000 people in distress reached out to 988. That’s an increase of 45% from a year ago when the original hotline was 10 digits long. 

This dramatic uptick not only reflects the ease of calling 988, but the fact that one in five adults struggles with mental illness. The growing mental health crisis is even more pronounced in young people. According to a recent Blue Shield of California/Harris Poll survey of more than 1,300 youth aged 14-25, 87% said they experienced mental health challenges on a regular basis.

Boosting awareness, improving access


Though 988 usage is on the rise, only 13% of adults know about 988, according to an April 2023 poll by Pew Charitable Trust. Awareness was even lower for people of color, lower-income individuals, and those with less formal education.

On a positive note, youth are more knowledgeable about 988. In the Blue Shield/Harris Poll conducted in June 2023, 30% of youth surveyed say they were familiar with 988 services. Of those who had heard of the hotline, 25% knew someone who used it, 17% had recommended it to someone, and 11% had used it themselves.

The texting option has also made getting help much more accessible and approachable.

“Texting can feel like less of a commitment than calling, particularly when talking about something as stressful as mental health challenges,” Christian-Herman said. “With a text, there’s less of a thought of who is on the other end, and it can remove the awkwardness of explaining yourself verbally.”

The 988 hotline is also helpful in diverting calls away from 911 while providing more appropriate support to those experiencing a mental health crisis. This creates a trusted outlet for communities that may not always have positive experiences with law enforcement.

“Too often, Black and brown individuals who are in mental distress experience violence instead of help,” Christian-Herman said. “Having a hotline that is not connected to law enforcement is critical for communities of color.

Opportunities to grow

Regardless of who is using 988, they can now expect shorter wait times. The average speed to answer across all contacts (calls, texts, chats) decreased from 133 seconds when first launched to 35 seconds in May 2023.

And episodes of disconnected outreach are improving as well. In May of 2023, only 7% of calls, texts, and chats to the hotline were disconnected before a counselor was able to engage -- down from 16% when 988 first launched last year.

Disconnections could be caused by a variety of reasons, including but not limited to short staffing in the call centers; when the person seeking contact changes their mind; when they no longer feel they have privacy in their environment; or random technical service interruptions.

“To continually improve 988 – and the mental health system overall – it will take a village to holistically address the national shortage of mental health professionals," Christian-Herman said. "We must both increase the pipeline of providers and prevent burnout for those already doing the work."  

For more mental health resources, check out the links below.


  • 988 is free, anonymous, and available in multiple languages. Connect to 988 here.
  • For more youth mental health resources, visit our BlueSky website.
  • TEEN hotline for youth mental health.
  • The Trevor Project for LGBTQ+ youth.
  • For Blue Shield of California members who are looking for a mental health provider, please click on our Find a Doctor page.