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988: 3-digit suicide lifeline receiving thousands of more calls/texts than expected in Wisconsin

Wisconsin anticipated its 988 center would receive 55,000 calls in the first year. It is now on pace to receive more than 77,000, according to a Vibrant Emotional Health projections report.
988 call center
Posted at 8:32 AM, Jan 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-17 09:32:15-05

MILWAUKEE — It has been six months since the launch of 988, the new three-digit number to help prevent suicide, and millions of calls have been pouring in. The number was started to help people get faster access to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The 988 number connects people experiencing any kind of mental health crisis to trained counselors. So far, more than two million people in the country have accessed 988. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services says the call volume is higher than anticipated.

988-Mental Health Hotline
In this Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019, photo, a man uses a cell phone in New Orleans. Quick help for suicidal thoughts and other mental health emergencies may soon be as easy as 9-8-8. The United States’ first nationwide three-digit mental health crisis hotline goes live on Saturday, July 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

"What we have been seeing over time is reaching out for some type of mental health support is just becoming less stigmatized,” said Caroline Crehan Neumann, crisis services coordinator at Wisconsin DHS.

Wisconsin anticipated its 988 center would receive 55,000 calls in the first year. It is now on pace to receive more than 77,000, according to a Vibrant Emotional Health projections report. According to Aurora Health Care's behavioral health therapy director Dr. Munther Barakat, since the pandemic, he has seen an increase in people coming in with more severe mental health issues.

988 center, counselor answers a call
A counselo in Green Bay answers calls for anyone who dials 988 in Wisconsin. The three-digit number is for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis.

"Prior to this number launch, we've noticed that people had been coming in with more acute symptoms,” said Barakat.

WATCH: Aurora Health Care Dr. Munther Barakat talks about some signs to watch out for in yourself or loved ones for depression and to seek professional help.

Signs to watch out for with depression

He says the main contributor to that was COVID and inequities. Barakat says even though things are returning to a more normal state, it takes much longer for people to mentally rebound.

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Counselor from Wisconsin Lifeline on the phone with someone who has called into the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. They will be answering calls for anyone who dials 988 starting on July 16, 2022.

"There has been a pattern of patients presenting with increased anxiety, depressive symptoms, and oftentimes it is related to isolation,” said Barakat. “We need to understand that once you've been exposed to something for a significant period of time that there is some residual emotional facts that are going to stick with you, and you need to process through them."

988 call center
Counselor at Wisconsin Lifeline on the phone with someone who has called into the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. That number is now accessed by dialing or texting 988.

There is an option when dialing 988 specifically for veterans to get help from other veterans. The hotline also launched a new option for the LGBTQ community to have similar resources. The 988 crisis line is a 24/7 hotline available for free day or night.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also call the network, previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.