WASHINGTON — According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every 11 minutes someone in the United States takes their life. In 2020, that amounted to 46,000 deaths by suicide.
The federal government is trying to bring that toll down with a simple three-digit phone number for people experiencing a mental health crisis.
“I have seen people call on their worst day in their lives,” said Darcy Miller, who serves as the regional director of emergency response and client engagement at New Vista in Lexington.
“It totally changed the trajectory of their lives because they called for help on their worst day,” Miller explained.
New Vista is one of 13 accredited call centers in Kentucky.
“It’s staffed 24/7, so there’s always somebody there, whether it’s 3 in the morning or 3 in the afternoon,” Miller said.
Right now, the group of Kentucky call centers average about 20,000 calls a year at the current hotline number. Miller said although the 988 number is new, the process of how counselors handle the emergency calls is not.
“I do expect volume to go up, but the way we work and how we solve a crisis, that’s not going to change. We already have that down,” Miller said.
As of July 16, anyone who is experiencing emotional distress or is worried about a loved one who may need support can dial 988 to speak with a trained crisis worker and be connected to additional resources if needed.
Something to keep in mind, this number will route callers to a local call center based on area code, not an exact location.
“Say you are a Kentuckian who has moved to Florida, and you get routed with us, we can connect you to a Florida 988 lifeline,” Miller said.
National legislation created this phone number in 2020, but a good portion of the funding was left up to the states. Only about 20 states have enacted legislation to help handle the increase in calls that is expected. Kentucky is one of them.
Dr. Allen Brenzel, medical director for the state department of behavioral health, said he believes the state is ready for this launch but will continue to look for ways to improve the system and add more long-term funding.
“It took years for 911 to be fully operational and effective so this is a launching point not a finishing point,” Brenzel said. “We have to first of all get the roll out to test the system for its capacity and then as we get the roll out in more intensive advertising and direct more folks to it.”
The old hotline number 1-800-271-TALK will remain in effect. People can call that or the 988 number and reach the same services. More information can be found here.