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988 suicide prevention hotline experiences 'huge influx of calls' 2 months after launch

In July, experts shared their concerns that the new suicide prevention hotline was understaffed and underfunded.

MINNEAPOLIS — It's been just over two months since the new suicide prevention hotline launched.

KARE 11 first told you then that doctors were concerned the hotline couldn't handle what was expected to be an influx of calls. 

New data shows that over the transition, there has been a 45% increase in overall volume compared to August of 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is also reporting a noticeable increase in volume (calls, chats and texts) to 988.

September is National Suicide Prevention month. Suicide was the second leading cause of death for young people aged 10-14 and 25-34 in 2020 — a statistic Dr. Dan Reidenberg says could jump another 10% this year. 

"The concern is great that our numbers of deaths are going up and that's why 988 is so important," said Dr. Reidenberg who runs S.A.V.E, a nationally recognized local nonprofit.

He also served on the steering committee for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — the former 10-digit support system that 988 replaced in July. 

"There was a huge influx of calls," said Dr. Reidenberg. "We don't believe that necessarily will sustain over time."

In July, MDH reported a 44% increase in call volume compared to June, plus a 250% increase in text volume, although the state's four crisis centers aren't answering 988 texts right now. Instead, texts are answered by national lifeline backup centers. MDH says a couple of centers are preparing to begin answering texts later this year.

"So, it's going to take some time to look at what needs to shift; where money needs to be allocated; what services can be provided in what way for the public using it in the ways they find most helpful," said Dr. Reidenberg.

Dr. Reidenberg predicts Minnesota needs $7 million to support the growing volume. It also needs to answer 90% of that in-state, which is a target goal that he says is in reach. Doing that could also lower the program's total cost. 

"There's been a tremendous improvement from about 35% to 40%, to over 80% in-state answer rate just by designating a backup center here in the state to answer state calls," said Reidenberg, who was hesitant to answer whether 988 is working.

He says there's simply not enough information yet and it could take a year to notice any trends.

"My opinion is it’s good news so far; we still have some more work to do," said Dr. Reidenberg.

If you or someone you know is facing a mental health crisis, there is help available from the following resources:

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