DENVER, Colo. (KRDO) -- New data from the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline shows the hotline has been receiving more and more calls and texts. Despite the increase, the hotline has been able to answer calls for help more quickly.
This success is largely due to $130 million in federal funding 988 received, which went towards hiring more staff and improving the job quality to retain the workforce. That included increasing pay, offering better benefits, and creating internship opportunities.
"The goal is by the time this volume doubles or triples as some of the projections are being discussed that we will be prepared to pick up the line," Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners President and CEO Bev Marquez said
Since its launch in July 2022, the call centers have seen a significant rise in call volume. At a total of 2.1 million calls, texts, and chats. The majority of those are answered in under a minute.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in the first six months of 988 launching from December 2021 to December 2022, over 172,000 more contacts were answered by call, text, and chat.
Calls answered increased by 48% and overall, approximately 89% of calls, texts, and chats were answered.
There are over 200 call centers in the country. Seven states had call centers before 988 launched, including Colorado. So for most states, the concept is new.
Most states have over a 90% answer rate for contacts, and the average speed of answers is down.
According to 988's Deputy Director Dr. John Palmieri, the average speed to answer year-over-year was about three minutes in 2021. It's now 44 seconds in December of 2022.
In Colorado, about 3800 calls would come in per month before the launch of 988. It is now 4700 per month.
"It really comes down to being available in that moment, ease of access," Marquez said. "You can be anonymous, you can talk with either a peer specialist or a counselor, you have choices, and not just about who you speak to, but what happens next. Do you want a mobile crisis unit to respond, do you want to go to a walk-in center, do you want to talk now."
In Colorado, the expectation is by this summer that 95% of the calls get picked up within 30 seconds. This is closely in line with the standards for 911.
Representatives for 988 say along with the funding, the ease of access around 988 is also what's influencing its success. The fact that people can call or text the number. As well as the marketing around it. The 3-digit hotline has been advertised a lot, making it more widely known and easier to remember than the previous 10-digit number.
Representatives with 988 say they are also implementing video phone capabilities for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, LGBTQ+ youth are at a higher risk of suicide. So 988 is also testing a pilot program for the LGBTQ+ community, in partnership with the Trevor Project, in which calls, texts, or chats from LGBTQ+ youth have the option of being connected with counselors specially trained in LGBTQ-inclusive crisis care services.
The pilot began in December and ends in March 2023.