It’s been a little more than six months since the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline changed its number to three digits, and the latest federal data indicates that Americans who are dealing with crises are getting help more quickly.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline call centers have received more than two million inquiries since switching to 988 in July. And instead of the average wait time of three minutes in 2020, as of December, callers are getting help in about 44 seconds on average.

Advocates say the uptick in inquiries is a clear indication people are becoming more aware of a problem that affects so many.

“They have a number they can easily call that they don’t have to look up, they don’t have to remember,” explained Sandra Goldmeer, area director of the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention.

The simplified number has resulted in an uptick of calls, texts and chat. Since this summer, 988’s monthly call volume has increased by almost 50%, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“That’s so critical that people know that it’s there and that people can use it if they feel there is not another avenue for them,” Goldmeer said.

The lifeline provides free and confidential support for people in distress; prevention and crisis resources; and best practices for professionals 24/7.

Nearly $100 million of the state budget will help bolster the call centers over the next two years by building up capacity, improving infrastructure and the hiring and training of more staff.

“Our in-state rates have gone way up, which means our ability to do effective community-based services is getting better, better and better,” said state Office of Mental Health Commissioner Dr. Ann Sullivan. “Most people who are in crisis who call the crisis hotline do not need to be referred anywhere else. That helps de-escalate what’s going on and gives them time to find other supports.”

Mental health advocates applauded the work, but said a lot more is needed.

“Making sure we are talking about each other, that we are supporting one another, that we’re checking in with one another so that we can change that stigma about mental health and suicide,” Goldmeer said.

According to officials, all 62 counties in the state have had coverage by a New York State 988 Contact Center since the launch in July 2022.

If you are in crisis and in need of help, there are a number of resources available on the Spectrum News 1 app. If you want to reach the crisis lifeline, you can do so by calling or messaging 988.