Aug 2, 2023 - Health

In its first year, nearly 14% of Louisiana 988 calls went unanswered by in-state counselors

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

Nearly 14% of the 5,065 988 calls made across Louisiana went unanswered by in-state counselors between April and May, per a new analysis from health research outlet KFF.

  • Those calls were diverted to out-of-state overflow call centers, which handle about 8% of calls nationally.

Why it matters: These missed calls are happening at a time when most Americans still aren't aware the 988 national suicide prevention and mental health hotline exists — and even as we hit the service's one-year mark, few states have established long-term funding commitments to sustain it.

  • Without more outreach and resources, 988 could languish as the nation continues to grapple with its mental health crisis.

Driving the news: Louisiana is gearing up to launch a 988 marketing campaign in September, officials say.

Be smart: In 2021, more than 48,000 Americans died by suicide, including 689 in Louisiana, according to the state government.

What they're saying: The Louisiana Department of Health reported that call volume for 988 has increased by 11% since June 2022.

  • The goal has been "to reduce the stigma around mental health, remove barriers and ensure Louisiana residents can make additional connections to local resources," said the state's Office of Behavioral Health assistant secretary Karen Stubbs in a statement.
  • "We are making significant progress, but we hope to expand our reach even more as we begin our second year of 988."

The big picture: Plans to use some of the nearly $1 billion in federal funding for a nationwide public service campaign haven't materialized, partly due to early concerns that marketing 988 could overwhelm the lifeline past capacity.

Still, since the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline was replaced last year with an easier-to-remember number, 988 has been contacted nearly 5 million times nationwide.

  • Officials, mental health advocates and call center leaders say they’re pleased with that number.
  • Demand is expected to jump to about 9 million contacts next year.
  • And people are getting connected faster. The average time it took to answer decreased from nearly 2.5 minutes to 35 seconds from May 2022 to May 2023, per federal data.

Yes, but: More than 80% of Americans still aren’t familiar with the new hotline, according to a recent National Alliance on Mental Illness survey.

  • And funding remains uncertain — only six states have enacted legislation to create monthly phone line fees to support the system, similar to how communities fund 911. Louisiana is not one, per NAMI’s tracker.

The bottom line: "We have to remember, we're at the beginning of what's going to be a marathon, not a sprint," said Chuck Ingoglia, CEO of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing.

  • "It's taken 15 years for 911 to evolve to the kind of system that it is today. We're just one year in."

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