April 18, 2024

Iowa’s first anniversary of 988 shows demand for mental health support remains high

This month marks a year since the launch of 988. It’s the new, easier-to-remember number for Suicide and Crisis Lifestyle, and it comes at a time when demand for mental health support is increasing across the country.

What is 988?

The new, easy-to-remember number for the national suicide prevention helpline is 988, which was a 10-digit number. The number started back in 2020 when President Donald Trump signed a bipartisan bill creating the digital hotline for mental health emergencies. It was launched on 16 July last year.

Each state has 988 call centers, and there is a national one for backup. Two Iowa call centers are operated by Foundation 2 Crisis Services in Cedar Rapids and Community Crisis Services in Iowa City that have contracts with the state Department of Health and Human Services.

988 centenary this week. What was his first year like?

In the first year of 988, Foundation 2 and Pobal said they answered 142 percent more contacts, including calls, texts and online chats, compared to the year before when it was still in the 10-digit number for suicide prevention. More than 31,000 Iowans have called 988 in this first year.

But leaders of those nonprofits said rolling out the service is a huge undertaking.

Emily Blomme, CEO of Foundation 2, said one major challenge call centers face is finding and retaining staff.

“Although the work is extremely rewarding, it is also difficult,” she said. “And so we have people who might start training, but then decide it’s not a job for them in the middle of training and quit, or they might have one situation that was really tough, like suicide active, and they do not want. do the work.”

On top of that. the state legislature has no designated funding for 988 services like Iowa some other states.

In May, the Biden administration announced that they are offering an additional $200 million to states to help 988 services.

Iowa HHS officials said last year that they plan to use temporary federal funding for now, crunch some numbers and then come up with a long-term state funding plan. But it is not yet clear what it will be.

Iowa HHS did not respond to IPR’s request for an interview.

What does 988 call information say about the need for mental health services?

Calls to mental health support lines overall yes upand advocates say that’s because the last few years have been very stressful due to, but not limited to, events like derecho and the 2020 election, the January 6 uprising and, of course, the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Peggy Huppert, executive director of NAMI Iowa, said that everyone living through these traumas together has loosened some of the stigma surrounding mental health, so more people are seeking help.

“The reason for that, from my point of view, is that awareness and willingness to talk about it has increased,” Huppert said, “because so many people have been dealing with anxiety or depression, and it’s they can relate to that.” yes.”

But despite an increase in the number of calls, a recent Pew Research survey found only 13 percent of adults information on 988 and its purpose.

Part of the reason for this in Iowa is that officials have delayed major marketing campaigns to advertise it while their call centers prepare and work out all the connections in its services, but that is likely to change in the coming months. come.

What’s next for 988?

Mental health advocates said it is important to figure out how to fund the service in the long run as well as increase awareness.

Foundation 2 and the Community said their crisis counselors could handle 97 percent of contacts satisfactorily without additional support.

But Iowa has a persistent problem of not having enough crisis intervention services statewide, so in those small percentage of cases when someone needs personal help, a trained mental health professional will show up, rather than just the police. Crisis services like this, especially in western Iowa, are still sorely lacking.

There’s also this desire to integrate 988 with 911 so if someone calls 911 needing mental health support, which happens a lot, they can be transferred to 988.

Mental health advocates want this, but the nonprofits running Iowa’s 988 call centers said this is much more technically difficult than it should be, so it could be a while before there’s any kind of crossover. there.

If you need help, you can call 988, the Iowa Warm line at 1-844-775-9276, the Iowa Concern hotline at 800-447-1985, or Iowa for life at (855) 581-8111 (call) or (855) 895-8398 (text).

For help in Spanish, call 531-800-3687.

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