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Concerns over long wait time for 988 calls

In just a few days, a new three-digit mental health hotline is set to go live across the country: 988.
Posted at 4:58 PM, Nov 29, 2022

LOCKPORT, N.Y. (WKBW) — The most wonderful time of the year can also be one of the most stressful. Fortunately, this holiday season, there is an easier way to access help if you are struggling during the holidays.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline launched its three digit number 988 in July, but wait times to get to someone on the other end have been a growing concern for many, including a Lockport woman's friend. Her friend was in desperate need of help on Sunday.

"I said, 'Well they have this new 988 number for suicide crisis line, call,'" she said.

On the other end of the 988 call, help was taking awhile.

"He's on the phone, on hold for like 15 minutes," she said.

This woman called 7 News about this problem, but asked not to use her name. She told 7 News' Kristen Mirand that her friend called twice, waiting for someone to answer the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. She even tried herself, and ended up waiting for awhile.

"Waiting 15 minutes it's not — it's unacceptable it's not right," she said.

This was frustrating for her friend, someone she has been supporting who is facing a hard time.

"It does break my heart," she said in tears.

Eventually on the third try, her friend spoke with someone, but it was a conversation she felt wasn't enough.

"He was only on the phone for probably 10 or 15 minutes with the person. What is being discussed in 10 or 15 minutes," she questioned.

According to The Pew Charitable Trusts, call rates are 30 percent higher than it was pre-988.

"The federal government's investment in 988 is one indication that we're moving toward creating additional support and access for our communities," Elizabeth Hole, director of outpatient operations with Horizon Health Services said.

She has been hearing from the community that wait times have been longer which she said is because of people calling the line out of curiosity, people calling in need of help and a nationwide worker shortage.

"The hope is that as the infrastructure is in place, more people are hired to be able to support this vital service," Hole said.

7 News did reach out to the Department of Health and Human Services regarding the long wait time concerns and this Lockport woman's concerns. They responded in an email to 7 News' Kristen Mirand:

We know that in a moment of crisis, every second matters, and nobody should have to wait for help. That is why we have worked diligently to bring down the average wait time to about 42 seconds for calls, texts and chats to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Prior to the 988 transition, the Biden-Harris Administration made unprecedented investments in the historically underfunded Lifeline, increasing federal investments 18-fold from $24 million to $432 million, to scale up crisis centers and back-up center capacity, improve response rates and increase capacity to meet future demand.

We encourage anyone who has experienced a significant wait time, or with any other complaint, to reach out to Contact the Lifelineso that the 988 Lifeline network administrator can investigate. We take all feedback to the 988 Lifeline network very seriously and work closely with local crisis centers to investigate complaints and explore ways to address the issue.

The 988 Lifeline is made up of a large network of more than 200 locally and state-funded crisis centers across the United States. Staffing needs vary across the country, but in general the need is consistent. We encourage anyone interested in this critical line of work to visit the 988 jobs webto learn more.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat

Meantime, the Lockport woman said her friend was brought to the hospital for further help, but her friend's story is a reminder that you never know what is going on in someone's life.

"If I can help one person, then I feel that I did something," she said.