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New 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline launches to help people experiencing mental health crisis

Katie Thoresen

There are very few days that go by without at least one mental health crisis call coming into 911 dispatch in Oneida County.

“Most days it’s several,” said Oneida County Sheriff’s Communications Lt. Amy Pequet.

These are calls that don’t necessarily need a law enforcement or medical emergency response. They’re just people who need to some to talk them down or help direct them to local mental health resources.

Pequet is hoping the new 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline number will help reduce these kinds of calls to 911.

“We’re hoping with the new 988 number that people that aren’t in imminent danger can eliminate the step of having to call law enforcement and get directly to the counselors and the help that they need,” she said.

The 988 call line may be a new number, but the resources behind it aren’t.

Anyone who previously called the 10-digit suicide prevention number, which is still active, would get directed to a local crisis call center.

If you call 988 in Wisconsin, you’ll get directed to the crisis call center run by Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin in Green Bay.

It became the statewide service for these kinds of calls in August 2020.

Family Services Outreach Coordinator Shelly Missall says even in that short time they’ve seen an increase in mental health calls.

“January 2021 we were taking about 1,100 calls a month. We’ve seen that consistently grow over the course of the last year and a half. In the last two months we’ve taken over 4,000 calls a month,” said Missall.

Family Services and the Department of Health Services expects a 93% increase in calls over the course of the first year of 988.

The crisis center has hired more staff and continues to hire more to help meet that expected demand.

Caroline Crehan Neumann is the Crisis Services Coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

She says it will likely take years but believes the 988 number will become as second nature as 911.

“This service is just going to integrate itself into society. People are talking about mental health and substance abuse crisis and suicidal thoughts so much more than they ever were,” said Crehan Neumann. “I think over time we’ll look back in 10 years and so sort of chuckle at this idea that we never had 988. Our kids and our kids, kids will just know about 988.”

If there is still a medical or law enforcement emergency response needed for a call, the crisis center is able to connect them.

Missall says about 30% of calls they receive are from people who are suicidal. Most callers just need someone to talk to.

“A lot of our calls are relating to things that are just going on in people’s lives. We see everything from relationship issues, job issues, financial issues, housing issues, things of that nature, all the way to things like having issues with class and distance learning issue with classmates, school bullying, things of that nature,” said Missall.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or a mental health crisis, call 988.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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