New data shows high statewide usage of the national 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline after the first year with its three-digit phone number.

California crisis centers responded to about 280,000 contacts via calls, online chats and text messages since 988 replaced a 10-digit phone number last July, according to Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, which is the hotline crisis center for several Southern California counties and also serves as a statewide backup center for 988 calls.

The state had the highest volume of contacts in the U.S., followed by New York. Call volume increased 28 percent from May 2022, when the hotline had a longer phone number, to May 2023.

“It shows that people are hungry and ready to use this service, particularly young people.”

Matt Taylor, Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services

Online chats and text message were a major contributor to the increase, said Matt Taylor, program director for the 988 network at Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, at a briefing this week. The majority of people using those methods are aged 24 or younger.

“It shows that people are hungry and ready to use this service, particularly young people,” Taylor said.

California is served by a network of 12 crisis centers. When someone contacts 988, they are routed to their local center, which can connect them to local and community resources. If the local center cannot respond, it goes to the state backup center at Didi Hirsch, or if that fails then it goes to the national network.

Those who are thinking about suicide or are experiencing a mental health crisis can call 988 across the U.S., 24 hours a day.

Deidre Foley is an intern at Bay City News and an MA candidate at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, where she specializes in data journalism and health & science reporting. Previously she was managing editor for the San Francisco Foghorn and has bylines in the NYCity News Service, Byklner and the Nagazasshi. Deidre is interested in using data and visuals to tell social justice and human interest stories.