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There was a 45% increase in call volume when Arizona switched to 988 suicide hotline

The state's primary vendor said calls increased 45% since switching from the 10-digit number and expects call volume to increase again over the next year.

PHOENIX — The 988 hotline, the nation’s suicide prevention lifeline and mental health crisis line, reached its first anniversary Sunday.

Since July 2022, 60,000 people in Arizona have called in for help, according to Solari Crisis and Human Services. Solari is the state’s primary vendor for the 988 hotline.

About 200 crisis agents answer calls from Arizonans, picking up the phone in nine seconds on average.

“We’re seeing a lot of folks that it’s their first time accessing crisis services,” said Cassie Villegas, Solari’s Senior Director of Contact Center Operations and Clinical Services.

In Arizona, roughly 5,000 people a month are calling 988. Over the year, the most common reasons people are calling are for suicidal or self-harm thoughts, anxiety and social concerns, according to Solari.

“Coming out of the pandemic, social media, ease of access to information, it is hard, it is hard on a lot of Arizonans to really be able to be comfortable in their own skin to really be able to cope with so many stressors,” Justin Chase, Solari’s President and CEO said.

While people call from all ages and demographics, Chase said the most frequent callers are women ages 24 to 55. 

There’s been a 45%  increase in call volume as the state switched over from the 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to the 988 hotline, Chase said. Adding, that increase shows a need for more awareness about the 988 hotline.

“What it really shows is that mental health is not - We aren't meeting and reaching everyone that we should be,” Chase said.

Nationally, a poll done this summer by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found 82% of Americans aren’t familiar with 988.

“What we really need to see is increased awareness, knowledge, conversations around 988 and its accessibility,” Chase said. “We look for a marketing campaign at the state level from a national level and a local level.”

Chase expects call volume to increase again over the next year by as much as 25%, believing an investment in 988 would help.

“Funding towards 988 would be vital and critical,” Chase said. “We're relying right now on grants and relying on federal supports, but really having that local and state level funding stream to really be able to create sustainability to ensure that 988 is there, not just for our generation, but for our children and their children.”

When people call the 988 line in Arizona, Chase said 87%  of the time, crisis agents can help someone on the phone without additional support.

“Mental health, suicide, and substance use deserve the same level of treatment and accessibility as any other critical emergency service,” Chase said. “And so 988 is and should be viewed at the same level as 911 and is a critical aspect of our community safety net.”

Solari also offers any caller a follow-up call to check in and make sure the caller can get to the recommended services.

“We’ve gotten a lot of feedback that just that was enough to kind of keep them stable,” Villegas said.

Villegas said that the program has helped staff help know some of what happens after they take calls on the job day in and day out.

“It’s hard, and we don’t always know the outcomes, right?” Villegas said.

The line also takes calls from family and friends of those struggling with mental health. Those make up about 15 to 20% of call volume, Chase said.

Villegas said crisis agents can help not only with just in-the-moment crisis but prevention too.

“If you know that a certain situation that you're coming upon is going to be triggering to you or that you're going to have anxiety over it, you can call us before it gets to that point, and we can help with that,” Villegas said.

If you or someone you know are struggling with mental health, there is help, and there is hope. You can contact a counselor via call, text or chat 24/7 by dialing 988.


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