NEW YORK -- On July 16, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline went from a 10-digit phone number to a 3-digit lifeline: 988.
CBS2's Dana Tyler spoke with an expert who said in just under two weeks of operation, the response has validated the need for this urgent connection.
Jamie Brill is the call center director at a Maryland crisis center, answering calls that may be a serious cry for help.
"One of the main purposes of lines like ours is to be readily accessible, 24/7," he said.
His is one of 200 crisis call centers across the country responding to the new 988 suicide and crisis lifeline. Trained counselors take calls from people who may be suicidal or dealing with drug or alcohol problems or mental health issues.
According to the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, the need for easy access to help is clear. Since it started, 988 has seen a significant increase in outreach, with counselors answering 23,000 more calls, texts or live chats than they had when there was still a 10-digit phone number. It's a 45 percent increase.
"Some are hearing about the number for the first time. I wouldn't say that there's more people in crisis now. I wouldn't say that there's people with different types of problems that are calling. I would say it's mostly a matter of public awareness," said Dr. John Draper, the chief 988 officer at Vibrant Emotional Health in New York's Financial District.
He says that help goes beyond the initial outreach.
"We've found through research that the follow-up calls have made a difference in keeping people alive, keeping them safe and also keeping them connected to other people and to care," Draper said.
Watch Tyler's full interview with Dr. John Draper
"Contact alone can be life saving and can be enough to provide stabilization for that individual in crisis," said Dr. John Palmieri, 988 team leader.
Three digits, Palmieri says, offering immediate help and a game-changing lifeline.
"The 988 code will be easier to remember and will make it easier for people to access life-saving services. I do think it will ultimately save lives," he said.
If you or a loved one is struggling or in crisis, help is available. You can call or text 988 or to chat online, go to 988Lifeline.org.
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