Dr. Lindsey Co-Authors Study Showing Room for Growth with 988 Lifeline
Findings shed light on how likely users in crisis would be to use the national suicide and crisis prevention service again.
NEW YORK— Last year’s launch of 988 as the new number for the national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline marked an important step forward toward meeting the growing demands for mental health services in America, but a newly-published study in JAMA Network Open that was co-authored by NYU Silver Dean and Paulette Goddard Professor of Social Work Michael A. Lindsey reveals room for improvement in how people who experience serious psychological distress use the lifeline, and perceive it after using it. Among study participants who had turned to 988 while experiencing serious mental health distress, most indicated that they were not very likely to use the service again.
The 988 Lifeline provides a phone, text, and chat resource for people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts, hopelessness, substance use crises, and other forms of psychological distress. The three-digit dialing code for mental health crises is designed to be accessible and easy to remember, similar to the way that dialing 911 is in emergencies. However, most U.S. adults remain unaware of it, as Pew reported this spring.
Led by researchers at NYU’s School of Global Public Health and Silver School of Social Work, a study was conducted in order to better understand whether people know about 988 and how they use it, depending on their mental wellbeing. They surveyed 5,058 U.S. adults to see if people with varying degrees of psychological distress had different levels of awareness and use of 988.
In the nationally representative, online survey of U.S. adults conducted in June 2023, they asked participants about their mental health and symptoms they were experiencing. Participants were also asked whether they had heard of 988, had used 988 themselves, and their likelihood of using 988 in the future if they or a loved one were experiencing a crisis or suicidality.
The researchers found that people with serious and moderate psychological distress were significantly more likely to have heard of 988 (47.4% and 45%) than those without distress (40.4%).
In addition, 6% of people with serious psychological distress reported using the 988 Lifeline. They were more than 30 times as likely to use the lifeline compared to those with no distress (0.2%) and six times more likely to use 988 than those with moderate distress (1%). Only 30% of those reporting serious psychological distress who had used 988 indicated that they were very likely to use it again.
“Our findings signal a need for research about satisfaction with the 988 Lifeline among people with serious psychological distress and the extent to which 988—and the resources it connects users to—sufficiently meets their needs,” said Jonathan Purtle, associate professor in the NYU School of Global Public Health, who led the research.
“Launching the 988 Lifeline has been a critical step for addressing America’s expanding need for mental health services, but we have to get to the bottom of why so many users who were in serious distress wouldn’t use it again—whether that means better training is needed, more resources or other solutions,” said Dr. Lindsey.
In addition to Drs. Purtle and Lindsey, NYU researchers Anna-Michelle Marie McSorley, and Abigail Lin Adera co-authored the study. The research was supported in part by the National Institute on Mental Health.
About the NYU Silver School of Social Work
NYU Silver has provided rigorous training to more than 20,000 social work practitioners and leaders since 1960, making it the leading destination for students who want to become innovative social work practitioners. We are renowned for a strong tradition of excellence in direct social work practice and dedication to social justice, and are moving the profession forward by training MSW students in the use of AI and data science tools. Offering undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral degree programs, the School also is a major training center for practicing social workers seeking continuing education. Our four campuses are in the heart of New York City, Rockland County, Westchester County, and Shanghai. For more, visit socialwork.nyu.edu.
About the NYU School of Global Public Health
At the NYU School of Global Public Health (NYU GPH), we are preparing the next generation of public health pioneers with the critical thinking skills, acumen, and entrepreneurial approaches necessary to solve global health challenges. Devoted to employing a nontraditional, interdisciplinary model, NYU GPH aims to improve health worldwide through a unique blend of global public health studies, research, and practice. The School is located in the heart of New York City and extends to NYU's global network on six continents. Innovation is at the core of our ambitious approach, thinking and teaching. For more, visit: http://publichealth.nyu.edu