On July 16, 2023, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services celebrated the one-year anniversary of 988, the three-digit suicide and crisis lifeline. 988 connects North Carolinians via call, chat or text to a trained counselor who will listen, offer support and provide community resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 988 is a state-federal partnership between NCDHHS and the U. S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration.
"988 has made it easier and faster for those in a mental health or substance use crisis to get the help they need,"
said NCDHHS Secretary Kody H. Kinsley. "It is a critical step forward in strengthening our crisis system throughout the state."
Every person who connects with 988 is offered support. The call center provides trained crisis counseling and connects callers to help in their local community based on each caller's specific needs. Callers are connected in real-time to specialized, community-based crisis responders 24/7, if that level of support is needed.
Currently, about 5,000 people call 988 each month in North Carolina. Since its launch last July, there has been a 31% increase in North Carolinians reaching out for support. Sixty percent of callers are new callers and 40% are repeat callers looking for additional support. Early indicators suggest 988 is highly effective, showing 90% of individuals with thoughts of suicide reported improvement in how they were feeling by the end of their call. Operational improvements are also evident. North Carolina's average speed to answer is 19 seconds, while the national average is 41 seconds (at the start of last year, the national average was 2 minutes and 39 seconds).
"We are encouraged by the significant increase in connections to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline,"
said Kelly Crosbie, MSW, LCSW, Director of the NCDHHS Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Use Services. "We're seeing 988 help more and more people in real time, which means more people are getting the care they need when they need it. That makes 988 a powerful tool for addressing our mental health and substance use crisis."
Callers who reach out to 988 have the option to connect with specialized crisis lines providing support services to Veterans and their families, LGBTQ+ youth and young adults (e.g., the Trevor Project Line), and to Spanish-speakers. Text and chat services are reaching individuals of all ages, particularly adolescents and young adults, with 39% of chats and texts coming from individuals 13-24 years old. With the recent addition of 24/7 Spanish chat and text services, 988 is expanding its reach into Spanish-speaking communities. As part of that broader commitment to health equity, NCDHHS continues to refine its 988 marketing to reach communities across North Carolina, tailoring campaigns for youth, older adults, rural communities, people with disabilities and Black and Indigenous People of Color.
NCDHHS is also pursuing additional ways to enhance 988. Using data obtained throughout the last year, and feedback from people with lived experience, NCDHHS is launching a supplemental service line that will enable 24/7 peer support services for individuals who contact 988 and prefer to speak to someone with lived experience. This peer "warm line"
will connect these individuals to a Certified Peer Support Specialist - someone living in recovery with mental illness and/or substance use disorder. By incorporating peer support into 988, the NCDHHS "warm line" promotes an anti-stigma approach to mental health and substance use, and it expands the evidence-based services 988 can offer.
Governor Roy Cooper's proposed $1B Behavioral Health and Resilience plan proposes additional investment in 988 and other community-based crisis services including:
- Mobile Crisis Teams: Immediate, on-site support for people experiencing a mental health and/or substance use crisis
- Facility-Based Crisis Centers and Drop-in Centers: Community-based crisis centers for individuals experiencing a behavioral health or substance use crisis
- Statewide Transportation Services: Transportation services to psychiatric facilities that do not involve law enforcement
988 is available to anyone, anytime. If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org. Individuals who speak Spanish can now connect directly to Spanish-speaking crisis counselors by calling 988 and pressing option 2, texting "AYUDA"
to 988, or chatting online at 988lineadevida.org or 988Lifeline.org.