COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The new 988 suicide hotline is experiencing a near 50% increase in call volumes since changing its number last month.

New data from the Department of Health and Human Services shows that 152,000 more calls were answered in August 2022 compared to August 2021. The average speed to answer these calls decreased from 2.5 minutes to 42 seconds.

“This person is calling on what is likely one of the worst days of their lives, and to have that care and compassion, skilled professional on the other end of that call, really gives me a lot of peace of mind,” said Marian Stuckey, section chief for Neighborhood Social Services, with Columbus Public Health.

Stuckey said they offer a variety of services within the community including mental wellness events and community-based support groups, which local psychologists say are crucial in addressing our nation’s mental health crisis.

A federal panel recently announced the need for anxiety screenings in all adults under the age of 65 due to stress from the pandemic.

“What we would hope to see, is a screening for depression or anxiety, coupled with here are some resources in the community, to help you feel better,” said Dr. Leslie Rudy, director of the psychological services center at the Ohio State University.

Rudy said while more anxiety screenings are a good first step, it’s getting patients the treatment needed afterward that will help solve the issue.

“In the psychology department, we have the psychological services center, which provides treatment to people in the community, free of charge,” Rudy said.

The city of Columbus also has its own 911 service for mental health, called the Right Response Unit. Last year, the unit handled more than 1,300 calls, one-third of which did not require any police response, and more than 25% of callers were connected to a local mental health provider.

The Right Response Unit is also expanding its hours from 8:30 a.m. until midnight Monday through Friday.