1 year later, calls to new suicide hotline number increase

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – It’s been exactly one year since the new suicide and crisis lifeline went live. The switch was made to the new number “988” to make it even easier for people to reach out in times of need. 

In New Mexico, officials say the switch has been working.

“I would reckon at some point, we’re all going to call 988 at some point,” said Alex Castillo Smith, a deputy secretary of the New Mexico Human Services Department.

Castillo-Smith says the hotline has seen an up tick in usage in New Mexico.

“We’ve seen a 40% increase in the number of contacts that had been made, just in the past year by transitioning to this very easy to remember three-digit number line you need,” said Castillo-Smith. 

That includes calls, texts and chats. Castillo-Smith says the average response time is only 27 seconds in New Mexico. The hotline offers an easy first step to mental health resources.

“It’s just one component of that crisis now system. But the 988 line is really, ultimately just someone to talk to, and someone who will listen to you and someone who will respond to you. And that doesn’t have to necessarily be done on the phone, it can be done in a chat or text,” Castillo-Smith said.

Over the past year, 27% of connections have been for suicide – the leading cause – followed by 14% of connections for substance abuse. 

While Castillo-Smith doesn’t have hard data, she believes the pandemic has a lot to do with the increased use of the hotline. 

“I think in many ways, we’re still grieving those years to the pandemic. Whether it’s people we’ve lost, or just the life that we lived, prior to the pandemic. So in that grief, it takes a very long time to go away,” said Castillo-Smith.

Castillo-Smith says it’s also important to recognize signs that someone else may need help. She says to look for a person’s ability to function, like doing simple tasks such as getting out of bed for the day. 

Also, if a person is using any substances and if they may be at risk of hurting someone or themselves.