Jul 11, 2023 - Health

1 year in, 988 hotline offering more accessible hope

Illustration of a phone with the wire in the shape of a heart.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Some call in the midst of a major personal crisis. Others are simply having a bad day.

  • No matter the circumstances, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline offers 24/7, personalized aid to all Ohioans in need.

Why it matters: With Ohio's suicide and overdose rates trending upward, leaders are drawing attention to 988 as an increasingly important resource.

By the numbers: Nineteen call centers have fielded an average of 12,000 calls, texts and chats per month since the service launched a year ago, according to the governor's office.

  • That figure is expected to rise amid a new state public awareness campaign set to be unveiled in the coming months.

How it works: Hundreds of trained specialists lend a helpful ear and guide Ohioans toward local mental health, addiction or other social services.

  • In some dire cases, they may send social workers or emergency responders directly to the caller's location.

Of note: The hotline is not meant to replace 911, which is still the dedicated line for immediate life-threatening situations.

What they're saying: 988 is an easier pathway to help, compared to earlier hotlines with longer dial numbers, says Rick Baumann, an assistant director for the Suicide Prevention Program at North Central Mental Health Services.

  • Baumann has dedicated himself to the cause of suicide prevention since his son died by suicide 16 years ago.
  • "What we do on that [hotline] is we sell hope," he says. "We're hope salesmen."

State of play: Ohio used $20 million in federal funds to pay for the first year of 988 operations and the recently signed budget bill allocates $46.5 million in state funding over the next two years.

  • A bipartisan bill from State Reps. Adam Miller (D-Columbus) and Gail Pavliga (R-Atwater) proposes a dedicated fund to protect 988 from what Pavliga calls the "political ebbs and flows" of budget negotiations.

The bottom line: In a press conference, Gov. Mike DeWine said the state is committed to providing "a visible, accessible and effective" resource in all 88 counties.

  • "988 is certainly a life-saving resource, but can only help if people know about it."

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988, or use the online 988 chat function.


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