TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in the United States in 2021. As the country remains in the grip of a mental health crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is getting an update to its call system.
A study by the RAND corporation found millions of Americans have a mental illness, but not nearly as many were treated for it.
“Untreated mental health symptoms are a pervasive and persistent public health problem. Around 39 million people in the United States were identified as having a mental illness in 2019 and fewer than half of those people received treatment,” RAND reported.
Starting July 16, texting or calling 988 will connect Americans with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, then routed to 200 local crisis centers, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The lifeline first launched in 2005.
In Florida, there are 12 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline centers, which “answer the third highest call volume in the nation,” according to SAMHSA. From 2016 to 2020, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline reported the number of calls from Florida asking for help in a crisis rose 61%. Of the roughly 2.4 million calls all across the U.S., more than 121,500 were in Florida.
More than half of the calls coming from Florida were connected to crisis centers in the state. However, the organization said only 78% of the calls were answered in 2020, and more than 30,000 calls came from people who transferred to the Veterans Crisis Line.
The Florida Lifeline said part of the issue is a lack of funding and a lack of staffing, as the number of calls have increased over time.
“The three-digit number will supersede the current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which has grown from about 50,000 calls in 2005 to more than 2.4 million in 2020,” according to RAND.
The Lifeline reported “when calls are re-routed to centers out of state, Florida callers in crisis often wait two to three times longer,” and receive fewer connections to the care they need, and end up “more likely to abandon their calls.”
Funding and staffing is needed to ensure care can be provided, so along with the 988 transition, the federal government is providing the states with $105 million in grant funding to assist with the transition and strengthen crisis care infrastructure. An overall $432 million was allocated in the 2021 fiscal year budget for the transition.
The additional funding in 2022 has been described as a “40-folded increase this year from four years before – and has mounted an all-of-government approach to partner with state and local leaders to improve system capacity and performance and ultimately improve the health of our nation.”
Citing data from the CDC, SAMHSA said there was one suicide death every 11 minutes in 2020, and suicide was the second leading cause of death for those ages 10 to 14 and 25 to 34 the same year.
“SAMHSA’s 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health data show 4.9 percent of adults 18 or older had serious thoughts of suicide, 1.3 percent made a suicide plan, and 0.5 percent attempted suicide in the past year,” SAMHSA reported. “Among adolescents 12 to 17, 12 percent had serious thoughts of suicide, 5.3 percent made a suicide plan, and 2.5 percent attempted suicide in the past year.”
The latest preliminary CDC mortality data showed that in the second quarter of 2021, roughly 14 suicides occurred for every 100,000 U.S. residents. In Florida, it was slightly lower at 13.2 per 100,000.
SAMHSA said anyone experiencing a mental health crisis or emotional distress should call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). People not in crisis who are seeking treatment options for mental health conditions should visit findtreatment.samhsa.gov or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
To find local treatment facilities, search online here.