DAVE & DUJANOVIC

988 suicide hotline rolls out and will save lives in Utah and the US

Jul 18, 2022, 6:00 PM
988 suicide prevention...
FILE - In this Aug. 11, 2019 file photo, a man uses a cell phone in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)
(AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — If you are in a mental health crisis, you need help now. You don’t have time to look up a number. So good news: 9-8-8, the national mental health and suicide prevention hotline, is now live. 

The toll-free 988 number connects the caller to a network of more than 160 U.S. crisis centers that provide 24/7 service.

Rachel Lucynski, business operations manager for Community Crisis Services at Huntsman Mental Health (HMH), said since Utah has been preparing to roll out the 988 number for years, the launch over the weekend went well.

Lucynski joined KSL NewsRadio’s Dave Noriega and Debbie Dujanovic to discuss the new number.

Who answers the 988 calls?

Before 911, a person in an emergency would have had to have known the police department’s phone number or have to look the number up. Debbie pointed out that the 9-8-8 hotline now does the same for a person dealing with a mental health emergency such as suicide.

“It’s just a lot easier for folks to remember the three-digit number to access the crisis and suicide prevention line,” Lucynski said. “But it is the same team of highly trained certified crisis workers that are there 24/7 to answer those calls that come in.”

Compared to the daily July average, Lucynski said Huntsman staffers saw a 50% increase in 988 calls over the weekend.

“So we did see that folks were maybe testing out the number and preparing to use it. But we did have a more than 90 percent answer rate on Saturday where the calls are answered in three minutes or less,” she said. She added that if the call is not answered within three minutes, it is automatically routed to a national backup center.

Lucynski said when a call is placed to 988, it is connected to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network of phones. The caller’s area code will determine to which call center it will be routed.

All calls with a Utah area code are routed to the Utah Crisis Line that’s staffed 24/7 by certified crisis workers at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute.

Experts in calming callers

Lucynski said 90% of the time, crisis workers are able to de-escalate a situation on the phone. 

“It really is only about 1% of the time that we’ll need to engage with emergency medical services or law enforcement to help with a life-saving intervention that someone is actively attempting or at imminent risk of attempting suicide,” she said. 

“Once fully implemented, 988 will save lives and is a critical component to ensuring people in crisis are diverted from involvement in the criminal justice system and connected to appropriate services and supports,” said Daniel H. Gillison, Jr, CEO of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, and Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., introduced the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act in 2020. The bill passed the House and Senate and was signed into law by President Donald Trump in October 2020 as reported by Deseret News.

Other suicide prevention resources

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Utah Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, which is answered 24/7/365 by crisis counselors at Huntsman Mental Health Institute.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard on weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as on Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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988 suicide hotline rolls out and will save lives in Utah and the US