By Brandon Graham
July marks one year since 988 — the number for people to contact during a mental health, substance use or suicide crisis for support — launched nationwide. This lifesaving resource, made possible by the tireless work of mental health advocates, is an opportunity to make sure every person gets the response they need and deserve. Its success shows what we can accomplish when advocates, partners and policymakers work together toward a common goal.
Our work to make that a reality continues, and we can’t slow down now.
Following years of advocacy, bipartisan legislation and federal rulemaking, 988 became available in every community across the country on July 16, 2022. Since then, contacts to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline soared, with a 40% increase in volume from July 2022 to May 2023. And it’s not only phone calls: there was a 752% increase in texts to the Lifeline in May 2023 compared to May 2022.
This increase parallels with efforts at state and federal levels to support the rollout of 988. NAMI tracks legislation in statehouses across the country that aim to support 988 and expand crisis services. More than half of states have passed appropriations to expand 988 capacity or fund crisis support services, like mobile crisis response (an alternative to relying on law enforcement response) and crisis stabilization options. Six states have a dedicated 988 monthly fee on all phone bills to sustainably fund crisis services, similar to monthly fees for 911, in addition to other policy efforts (see what legislation is moving in your state here).
Following NAMI’s advocacy efforts last December, Congress included major funding increases for crisis services in its end-of-year legislation, investing $501.6 million in the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for Fiscal Year 2023, which ends Sept. 30, 2023. Just last month, NAMI, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the #ReimagineCrisis campaign celebrated 17 members of Congress with a "988 Crisis Response Champion Award" for their lifesaving work to improve our nation's response to mental health and suicide crises.
However, this progress doesn’t mean that the work is over. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, as demand grows, and we face potential federal funding cuts for Fiscal Year 2024.
Yesterday, NAMI released our latest public opinion poll (conducted by Ipsos) exploring what the American public does — and more accurately, doesn’t — know about 988. Our research found that about four in five adults in the U.S. are not familiar with 988, even after one year of its existence. This is a slight increase compared to our previous polls, yet people’s knowledge of 988 remains very low.
The poll also finds there is a good foundation to grow trust in 988 as more people become familiar with its availability. Despite not knowing about 988, after being informed of its purpose, 58% of Americans “somewhat trust,” and 22% have “a great deal of trust,” that 988 would provide them with the help they need — even if they are not personally familiar with it or know anyone who has contacted 988.
Thankfully, U.S. adults remain supportive of policies that would strengthen 988 and fully funding our mental health crisis response system. Most Americans say mental health care overall (62%) and the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline specifically (50%) should be a high priority for funding in Congress. This support is strongest in communities overly impacted by an inadequate mental health system. For instance, Black Americans are nearly twice as likely as white Americans to say that mental health care should be the highest priority for federal funding (42% vs. 23%, respectively).
Public support for fully funding 988 and our mental health crisis system is more important than ever. Next year, demand for 988 is anticipated to increase by 50% — to an estimated 9 million contacts in 2024 — as more people become aware of the resource. But right now, there are discussions on Capitol Hill to return to 2022 funding levels — which would be an 80% cut in current 988 funding levels and have disastrous implications for 988 and crisis service availability and capacity. As NAMI’s Chief Advocacy Officer Hannah Wesolowski said recently, “We can’t lose the momentum and progress we’ve made in making sure every person in a mental health crisis receives a mental health response.”
That’s why NAMI is making sure policymakers understand just how important it is to keep advancing bipartisan efforts to reimagine our mental health crisis response system. On July 13, NAMI partnered with The Hill to host an event exploring this issue: “Dialing into Mental Health: One Year of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.” The event featured leading experts, including U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra, discussing the impact of 988 and our crisis response. Additionally, NAMI placed a full-page ad in POLITICO, which is distributed to every Congressional office, speaking directly to policymakers about why we need to fully fund 988.
You can also join our advocacy to help people in mental health crisis.
The work ahead will require long-term commitment from all of us. After one year of 988 being available nationwide, let’s take the next steps together to ensure a mental health response is available for everyone who needs it.
Brandon Graham is the Director of Advocacy at NAMI National.
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