On July 16, 2022, the new number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline went into effect. The three-digit number, 988, was designated by the Federal Communications Commission for the Lifeline. Since launching, calls to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline have increased, with far more people getting support, faster than ever before.
Similar to those who grew up learning to call 911 for emergencies, the next generation will grow up learning about 988 as a resource for suicide prevention or if they or someone they know is in a mental health crisis. This number is intended to make it easier for people in crisis to access immediate help and support from trained professionals via text, phone call or chat.
In collaboration with a network of over 200 crisis call centers, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline was able to develop a triage system that uses the person’s area code and prefix to route them to their local certified crisis call center. Burrell Behavioral Health runs one of the seven call centers in Missouri, serving 17 counties including Boone County. Burrell received 502 calls from 988 in June 2023, the highest month since its launch.
How it works
Calling 988 connects you with trained crisis counselors who can help people experiencing suicidal ideation, a substance use and/or mental health crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress. People can also dial 988 if they are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support.
In addition to calling 988, you can text the number, or use the chat option available when you visit 988lifeline.org and select the chat button in the top right. All three options are available 24/7. When someone calls they will first hear a greeting message with the options to press 1 for the Veterans Crisis Line, 2 for Spanish, 3 for gender-affirming care, or stay on the line while your call is routed to a local Lifeline network crisis center like Burrell.
It’s important to remember that a crisis is self-defined and that 988 connects you to compassionate, confidential support for free, regardless of your reason for calling.
One year in, what do we know?
In Missouri, speaking with someone is fast. The state also leads the nation in answer rates. Burrell’s certified National Suicide Prevention Lifeline call center reports an average of 4.6 seconds from dialing to a citizen being on phone with a 988 operator. A look at data from June revealed a 99% answer rate for calls originating from a Boone County phone number. The state mandate is an 80% answer rate.
Having someone to talk to works! Studies show that most callers are significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful after speaking to a Lifeline crisis counselor.
With calls to 988 increasing, it reveals the three-digit lifeline is connecting more people to local tools and resources that will help prevent future crisis situations.
Marking the milestone
In honor of the one-year anniversary of the launch of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, Burrell’s Crisis Services and Be Well Community partnered to mark the milestone with what has become a symbol of hope in the mental health world – a bell. And not just one bell but two of them, painted collaboratively by Burrell clients and staff to be displayed in Central and Southwest Missouri.
In the 1950s, as mental health treatment began to transfer away from institutions to community and clinical settings, Mental Health America issued a call to asylums across the country to collect chains and shackles that were once used as restraints during mental health treatment. These chains and shackles were melted down and cast into a bell ‑ a sign of hope.
This was the inspiration for Burrell’s bells. Creating them and placing them out in the community is a way to continue educating people about 988 and mark major progress in combating mental illnesses. There is hope.