COLORADO SPRINGS — It's National Suicide Prevention Month, and it's been just over two months since the transition to 988, the three-digit number that is the Suicide and Crisis hotline. Data released last week shows the resource is already helping more people, and connecting them to help even faster.
The U.S Department of Health and Human Services released data that shows a 45% increase in the number of people reaching out compared to the same time last year.
“It puts an ease in my heart and mind to know that it's easier for people to access it,” said Case Walton, the executive director of Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention Partnership.
The 45% increase represents about 152,000 calls, chats and texts to the 988 number. Walton said mental health advocates expected the increase in call volume when the transition happened.
“Making the number easier to remember makes it much more accessible for someone who is in crisis or under stress. And then too, because it's so similar to 911, I think people who didn’t feel comfortable calling in the past, now feel like they can,” said Walton.
Her office is filled with artwork made from people impacted by suicide. Walton said the local organization has not seen an increase in calls anywhere near 45 percent. They’ve seen about a 10% to 15% each month since the pandemic began. But the high call volume nationally, is shedding light on the nation-wide issue.
“What it really does is highlight it for the general public. We know that there are a large number of people who are looking for services,” said Walton. It’s indicative of what has always been a present need, and just making it more accessible kind of brings it to light.”
Walton said they're also getting fewer calls from people asking for the lifeline number.
News5 spoke to Julia Donovan, who lost her best friend to suicide in early summer. She shared that her friend had called the old 10-digit lifeline several times, before it was transitioned to a three-digit number.
“I think it was a few weeks after she committed suicide and my heart sunk a little bit,” said Donovan. “Obviously I’m happy and I think it’s going to help a lot of people, but I think it could’ve helped her.”
Donovan said her friend had been dealing with mental health issues for the past few years and she sought help several times.
“She would always tell me how weak she was physically and mentally and you could hear it in her voice. And so I just feel like if there was something like 911, I think it would’ve helped in a mental health emergency,” said Donovan.
For Donovan, she said the transition to a three-digit number is a step toward more awareness and hopefully helping others now and moving forward.
“I feel like this three-digit number is a good start and it just brings awareness to this mental health movement that we've been seeing over the last few years,” said Donovan. “As someone who is close to someone who is suicidal, often times you’ll hear that, ‘I’m getting help but it’s just not working.’ And I think that’s when we need to push to make sure they’re getting better help.”
Data also shows that there has been a big reduction in response times from August of last year, to this year. What used to be 2 1/2 minutes to get a response, is now 42 seconds.
For more information about the lifeline, click here.
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