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With Federal Appropriations Cuts Possible, Americans Overwhelmingly Want Congress to Fund Help for People in Mental Health Crisis
ARLINGTON, VA — Days before the one-year anniversary of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline becoming available nationwide, a new poll from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) finds most Americans (82%) are still not familiar with 988 — a resource to help people in mental health, substance use and suicide crises get connected to crisis support. As communities nationwide work to expand the capacity of 988 call centers and the availability of related crisis services, the new research, conducted by Ipsos, shows that half of Americans say funding 988 should be a high or the highest priority for Congress.
“If we collectively want to help people in crisis — and save lives — 988 cannot be the best kept secret. Thankfully, the data show more people are beginning to become aware of this important resource — but not nearly enough,” said NAMI Chief Executive Officer Daniel H. Gillison Jr.
“With the release of NAMI’s latest poll, we aren’t only commemorating one year of 988 being available nationwide. We are also celebrating the overwhelmingly unified support of Americans to ensure every person in crisis gets the help they need and deserve. This is a call to action for our policymakers to continue to prioritize reimagining our response to people in mental health crises.”
Awareness of 988 has increased significantly since NAMI and Ipsos started measuring it in Fall 2021 – but far fewer know what 988 provides. More than three in five respondents now say they have at least heard of 988, up 19 percentage points since NAMI’s last poll eight months ago, but familiarity with what 988 offers help seekers remains low. Only 17% of people say they are very or somewhat familiar with 988 as a resource.
Fully funding our mental health crisis response system must be a priority so that everyone gets the help they need —and the public agrees. A majority of Americans say mental health care overall (62%) and the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline specifically (50%) should be a high priority for funding in Congress. This support is strongest in communities that are more impacted by an inadequate mental health system. For instance, Black Americans are nearly twice as likely as white Americans to say that mental health care should be the highest priority for federal funding (42% vs. 23%, respectively).
While 988 and mental health both have strong bipartisan support in Congress and at the state level, 988 funding could be at risk with across-the-board funding cuts being debated in Congress right now.
“Discussions to return to fiscal year 2022 funding levels would have disastrous implications for 988 and crisis services,” said Hannah Wesolowski, NAMI’s Chief Advocacy Officer. “Next year, demand for 988 is anticipated to increase by 50% as more people become aware of this lifesaving resource — from an estimated 6 million contacts in 2023 to 9 million in 2024. We’ve come a long way in a few short years, but we can’t lose the momentum and progress we’ve made in making sure every person in a mental health crisis receives a mental health response.”
More than 4 million contacts have been routed to 988 since the three-digit number became available nationwide in July 2022, a more than 40% increase over the previous year. However, less than 1 in 5 people are somewhat or very familiar with this life-saving resource, and few people surveyed say they or a loved one have contacted it. Additionally, more than 2 in 5 individuals still say they don’t know what to do if someone they love is experiencing a mental health crisis or thinking about suicide – the exact situations that 988 is intended to address.
Americans aged 18–29 are the group most likely to be aware of 988. LGBTQ+ Americans are twice as likely as their peers to say they are familiar with 988. This is a promising sign, given the higher rates of suicide attempts in LGBTQ+ communities.
Fortunately, the poll finds there is a good foundation to grow trust in 988 as more people become familiar with its availability: 58% of Americans somewhat trust, and 22% have a great deal of trust, that 988 would provide them with the help they need — even if they are not personally familiar with it or know anyone who has contacted the Lifeline.
Ensuring that everyone in a mental health crisis receives the response they need remains a top priority of NAMI. Last month, NAMI, along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, honored more than a dozen members of Congress with the “988 Crisis Response Champion Award” for their commitment to improving our nation’s response to mental health and suicide crises.
NAMI and its #ReimagineCrisis Campaign partnership of more than 50 national groups will continue to work with Congress and the Administration to build services that ensure people in crisis across the country have someone to talk to, someone to respond and a safe place to go.
Find the polling topline here, as well as a research slide deck here.
This NAMI/Ipsos poll was conducted June 2 – 11, 2023, by Ipsos using the probability-based KnowledgePanel®. This poll is based on a nationally representative probability sample of 2,073 general population adults age 18 or older. The survey has a margin of errorof ± 2.3 percentage points. Learn more about the poll methodology here.