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One month after switch to '988,' Suicide Prevention Lifeline sees 40% increase in volume

In July, people could dial 988 to be immediately connected to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — On July 16, people could start dialing '988' to be connected to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. By calling or texting, people would be connected to someone who would be able to discuss any problems on their minds.

A month into the change, they said they have seen a 40% increase in the volume of calls on a national level. They said some call centers are seeing twice as many calls as they did before.

"It's easy to dial, it's easy to text, and when you're in crisis we definitely want something that is quick and easy," said Paige Gaines, an advocate for suicide prevention education.

While she said she was glad to see the transition, the move came with hiccups. A social media user posted a lie that attracted millions of views, falsely saying callers could be involuntarily committed to psychiatric wards or visited by police for calling 988.

"The unknown can feel quite scary. We don't want to call someone we don't know. What's going to happen if I press 'two?'" said Gaines.

She said less than 2% of phone calls to the Lifeline result in police officers being called. 

The emergency response network is accessible through 988 in every state. In Tennessee, there are six call centers. One of them is in Oak Ridge. Some call centers across the country said they have seen call volumes double since the change. 

Online counselors at the centers are trained to de-escalate situations and protect people if they are experiencing a mental health crisis. Callers are usually connected to local resources that can help.

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