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As 988 crisis line turns 1, Utah health groups stress continued assistance

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Daily Herald | Jul 17, 2023

Jon Elswick, Associated Press

Part of the 988helpline.org website is photographed Friday, Feb. 3, 2023.

During its first year in operation, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline received nearly 87,000 calls from Utahns desperate for help.

“Our goal is to answer those calls within 120 seconds or less, and if they go past that, the calls are routed to the national backup center,” said Rachel Lucynski, director of community crisis intervention and support services at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. “As of last month, we were able to answer those calls in 9 seconds or less. That’s not even enough time for the phone to ring twice.”

Lucynski said 90% of those calls were resolved over the phone with a certified crisis worker.

Nate Checketts, deputy director for the Utah Department of Health and Human Services, said in Utah last year alone, two people died by suicide every day and 11 people died from unintentional substance use overdose.

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a national network comprised of more than 200 crisis centers across the country. Anyone who calls 988 from a Utah area code is directed to the Utah Crisis Line, which is managed and staffed by certified crisis workers at HMHI.

“We know there’s an incredible number of people who struggle on a daily basis,” he said. “Over 90% of Utahns have somebody in their lives who has an issue related to suicide.”

Diana Ballesteros, SafeUT outreach coordinator and certified crisis worker for HMHI, said a crisis looks different for everyone, whether it’s from a recent divorce, stress on the job or someone with suicidal ideation.

“A lot of people will call and say they don’t want to take time away from someone else who needs to talk, but if you are thinking about calling, that’s the right sign you should call,” she said. “I don’t think many people understand how hard it is to pick up that phone and be willing to talk to someone they’ve never met and tell them they’re in crisis, but we are here to listen and make sure you’re feeling heard and not alone.”

For the past decade, the state has invested significant resources in moving the 988 vision forward, said Ross VanVranken, executive director at HMHI and chair of the Behavioral Health Crisis Response Commission. With the help of the Utah government, other health systems and private businesses, suicide and crisis intervention has been a top priority.

“At DHHS, our goal is to ensure that all Utahns have fair and equitable opportunities to live healthy and safe lives,” said Executive Director Tracy Gruber. “We know supporting people’s emotional, behavioral and mental health are key points of focus if we are to succeed in this vision.”

Forty new crisis workers were hired to expand capacity and prepare for the launch of 988 on July 16, 2022, a 93% increase in the Utah Crisis Line workforce. Forty new crisis workers were hired this year to continue improving Utahns’ access to lifesaving services. Ballesteros said the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24/7 for calls, texts and chats for those experiencing emotional distress, suicidal thoughts, substance use disorder crises, veteran crises and LGBTQ+ crises.

“It’s so important to be here to celebrate 988,” she said. “Anyone feeling overwhelmed, stressed out and needs someone to talk to, please don’t hesitate to call 988. You can call at 9 a.m., noon or 2 a.m. We are here to make sure every single member of our community is able to get that support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”


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