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Marking the one-year anniversary of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

Posted at 10:41 AM, Jul 21, 2023

This week we mark one year since the launch of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

“It’s actually a huge deal,” said Rachel Lucynski, director of crisis services for the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. “That was an idea that was actually born in the state of Utah and championed by many of our legislative leaders.”

This effort started with an act introduced by Congressman Chris Stewart and the late Senator Orrin Hatch in 2017, and eventually lead to legislation passed in 2020. The nationwide launch of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Hotline on July 16th, 2022.

“When folks are dealing with an emotional or mental health crisis, it can be really difficult to have the same level of cognitive functioning that you would normally do and so having a three-digit number that people can remember, similar to 911, can literally save lives,” said Lucynski.

Lucynski oversees counselors who respond to 988 callers, with Utah’s team touting one of the best answer rates in the nation at 90 percent.

She said, “That doesn’t include that sometimes folks get nervous when they call in and they hang up before our team even gets a chance to get to them, so a 90 percent answer rate is one of the highest you can get.”

The crisis center in Utah answers calls on average in just 9 seconds.

“People are getting access to help very quickly in their time of need,” said Lucynski. We really want to help people get their crisis resolved and then talk about connecting them to other resources and community-based care. ”

Dr. Mike Franz, senior medical director of behavioral health with Regence BlueCross BlueShield said 988 is a real game changer.

“Conservatively 1 in 5 folks in Utah are experiencing a behavioral health condition at any time. I think it’s closer to about a third now since the pandemic – some statistics coming out show that behavioral health conditions are even more prevalent – so we need the service now more than ever,” said Franz.

Franz said you should talk to those you may be concerned about, and even directly ask if they’re feeling suicidal.

“You don’t put that idea in their mind, said Franz. “Some folks are afraid to ask that question, because they think it increases the risk, but it does not. ”

When it comes to getting help, “Access is one major issue, and then stigma,” said Lucynski.

Utah’s suicide rate this year has gone down – the largest single year reduction in nearly a decade, moving from 5th and 6th in the nation to 14th.

“We’ve made huge progress and strides and I think Utah’s continuing to lead the country in a best practice integrated crisis response system,” said Lucynski.

Regence’s philanthropic arm Cambia Health Foundation has joined the effort – helping those who are helping those in need.

“As we geared up for the launch of 988, they invested $50-thousand in our crisis center in the state of Utah,” said Lucynski.

That donation has provided training and things like decompression rooms, fitness centers, and tools that can help counselors continue to help others.

If you or someone you know is struggling, you can reach out for help at the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.