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Since switch to 988, suicide hotline busier than ever; experts say MN response could still improve

The simplified number has led to more calls, texts and chats, but many are still being answered out of state.

MINNEAPOLIS — Six months after the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline changed its phone number to 988, it's responded to more than two million calls, texts and chat messages.

According to the Associated Press, the 988 helpline registered 154,585 more calls, texts and chat messages in November 2022, than in the same month the year before.

Texting has been particularly popular, as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration noted a 1,227-percent increase in texts to the line during that same time.

"I think the takeaway is if you make it easy to access, people will," said Sue Abderholden, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Minnesota alone has also seen large year-over-year jumps in demand for the hotline. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, there was a 10-percent increase in calls statewide from the time 988 was implemented in 2022, compared to the same time period in 2021. There was also a 104-percent increase in chats, and a 266-percent increase in texts to 988.

Abderholden says she is surprised at how well all of those calls and texts have been handled, considering the fact that Minnesota is using limited federal funds and operating without state funding for the service. 

"In Minnesota right now, we're not able to answer the texts," Abderholden said. "One of the overflow call centers across the country will take that text and answer it, so please don't be afraid to text 988." 

She added, "The other issue on the national level, is the calls are routed by your area code, not by where you live, and so you could be living in Minnesota but have an 847 area code from Illinois, and you're going to get the Illinois call center and not Minnesota's." 

Abderholden says that area code issue is being worked on nationally, and in Minnesota, there is a push for a bill in the legislature to provide state funding to answer texts and otherwise expand that local response.

"The reason that's so important that a call get answered where someone lives, is that call center knows the resources that are available in that community," she said.

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

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