National Suicide Prevention Hotline Changes Phone Number, Still Faces Underfunding

Maria Verduzco, Editorial Writer

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has been in service since 2005 and, according to ABC News, since it began they have recieved more than 20 million calls from people looking for help. For the past 17 years the hotline has kept its number, 800-273-8255, but they’re looking to change their number starting July 16. Their new number will now be 988, taking inspiration from 911, in hopes that it will be an easier number to remember and be more accessible to the public.

Given the events of the past couple years with the pandemic and various lock downs, Americans are dealing with many mental health issues, which means the Suicide Prevention Hotline is dealing with more callers than ever before. The decision to change numbers was partly made to ensure that those in need have a service easily available to them when needed.

The current issue they are facing is an issue with funding and staff. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) estimates an increase of 25% after the number change, meaning that by 2023 the number of received calls will reach 7.6 million, more than double of the recently recorded calls. When calling the hotline the caller is directed to a local crisis center and if said center is full, the caller is then transferred to a national crisis center, where they might often be put on hold depending on how critical the situation is.

With the upcoming number change, SAMHSA hopes they can receive more government funding to help with the understaffed issue many crisis centers are experiencing. The understaffing issue directly affects the hotline because it restricts the number of calls being answered and people they are able to help.

Another study done by SAMHSA shows that only 85% of calls are being taken by local centers and the rest go to a national backup network, also meaning that around 20% of callers that reach the backup network aren’t receiving immediate help and are being put on hold. Not much has been said on how the number change will directly affect the amount of calls being transferred to a backup network but hopefully we will see more people receive the help they need.