Pandemic Patients Calls on Congress to Increase Investment in the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

Pandemic Patients joined a letter with mental health stakeholder groups to ask Congressional appropriators for continued investment in the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
Sad depressed young Asian woman standing at home talking phone, hearing bad news, calling psychologist to receive mental health support, frustrated female making phone call, needs someone to talk to.

On July 17, 2023, Pandemic Patients joined with mental health stakeholder groups to request greater funding for the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline in FY24. In a letter sent to the leaders of the U.S. House and Senate Appropriations Committees, these groups emphasized the importance of this resource for people experiencing a mental health crisis. Greater funding for this program will ensure people can connect to help and resources quickly as the awareness and demand for mental health crisis services increases. COVID-19 and long COVID are associated with greater rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation, which is why we believe this program is a critical resource for people who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The text of the letter is available below.

Dear Chairs Granger and Murray, Ranking Member DeLauro and Vice Chair Collins:

Our organizations share a commitment to reimagining our national response to people experiencing a mental health, suicide, or substance use crisis. Together, we represent people with mental health conditions and substance use disorders and their families, individuals affected by suicide, health care and emergency response professionals, advocates for civil and disability rights, law enforcement, and others dedicated to helping people in crisis get the help they need and deserve. We thank you for your continued bipartisan support of mental health, suicide prevention and substance use programs.

This month, our country marks the one-year anniversary of nationwide availability of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (“988”), a number for a person to contact in a mental health, substance use, or suicidal crisis. Thanks to Congress’ leadership, 988 has been able to respond to millions of contacts in the first year alone, helping countless people who reach out on the worst day of their lives. To fulfill the bold promise of 988 – that every person in a mental health crisis gets a mental health response – we need continued Congressional support to build and sustain critical investments in the full mental health crisis care continuum, including 24/7 call centers answering 988 contacts, mobile crisis teams, and crisis stabilization services.

The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline will answer an estimated six million contacts this year—a roughly 40 percent increase over last year. Demand is anticipated to grow by another 50 percent (nine million contacts) in 2024. For many individuals, their call, text, or chat to 988 is the intervention they need most: someone to talk to. Some help seekers may need more support than can be provided over the phone, and programs like the Mental Health Crisis Response Partnership Pilot Program are enabling behavioral health-focused in-person response options in communities across the country.

However, just as more people are becoming aware of 988 and the hope it provides, returning to FY 2022 funding levels for these programs would have disastrous implications and constrain the 988 Lifeline’s ability to provide life-saving support to everyone who needs it. We recognize our nation faces significant challenges and that funding is limited. As you finalize FY 2024 appropriations, we urge you to continue to make mental health care a key national priority. Building on FY 2023 appropriations for 988 and mobile crisis response will solidify Congress’ bipartisan commitment to mental health crisis services and help ensure these resources able to meet the expected continued growth in demand.

Lives are at risk if someone contacts 988 and can’t connect to help quickly. Congress’ ongoing investment in these critical programs will help stem the rising rates of suicide and overdose deaths in our country while ensuring that every person in crisis can receive the help they need and deserve. We sincerely appreciate your continued leadership and dedication to addressing mental health, substance use, and suicide prevention needs in our country and, in particular, your work to ensure access to care for individuals in crisis. Thank you for your consideration of this critical request.

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