Jul 27, 2023 - News

A year in, Illinois 988 crisis hotline "has much work to do"

Illustration of Illustration of person dialing 988 on smartphone

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

About 14% of the 23,000-plus Illinois calls made in April and May to the 988 crisis hotline were redirected to other states, per an analysis by health research outlet KFF.

Why it matters: When calls are transferred out of state, it becomes much harder for those specialists to locate nearby services for people in crisis.

The big picture: These redirected calls are happening as most Americans still aren't even aware the 988 national suicide prevention and mental health hotline exists, Axios' Sabrina Moreno writes.

  • As we hit the helpline's one-year mark, few states have established long-term funding commitments to sustain it.

By the numbers: Only six states have enacted legislation to create monthly phone line fees to support the system, similar to how communities fund 911.

  • Six more — including Illinois — have funding bills pending, per NAMI's tracker, while others have made general fund appropriations.

Without more outreach and resources, 988 could languish as the nation grapples with its persistent mental health crisis.

Data: Kaiser Family Foundation; Note: Does not include calls to the Veterans Crisis Line; Map: Alice Feng/Axios

What they're saying: "A year into the 988 system launch, Illinois has made significant progress but still has much work to do," Andy Wade, executive director of the Illinois branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), tells Axios.

  • "A mental health crisis is a highly personal, very local event, in which lives are literally at stake, making in-state response rates one of the most crucial measures of an effective crisis response."

Yes, but: This time last year, "only 18% of calls were answered in-state — the lowest rate in the country," Wade says

  • "Illinois has made a dramatic turnaround in a short time, just by investing in a larger system," he adds.

Zoom in: Illinois runs six call centers; three operate 24/7.

  • Over the last year, Illinois Department of Human Services officials have worked with the centers to adjust staffing and hours around peak demand.

What we're watching: IDHS says that this fall it will open a dedicated center to answer calls from within Chicago. Callers here currently are directed to a statewide backup center.

  • Illinois lawmakers also recently created a task force to review the state's progress implementing 988 operations.

The bottom line: "The launch of 988 is the first, most visible stage of the most dramatic reinvention of our mental health crisis response system in decades," Wade says.

  • "We are moving in the right direction and need to keep working until every call can be answered locally."

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