Jul 24, 2023 - News

Nearly a third of crisis calls unanswered in Arkansas

Share of 988 suicide and crisis hotline calls left unanswered in their own state
Data: Kaiser Family Foundation; Note: Does not include calls to the Veterans Crisis Line; Map: Alice Feng/Axios

Arkansas has the fifth worst record for answering 988 calls in-state, per a new analysis of April and May from health research outlet KFF.

Why it matters: Nearly 980 of the 3,119 crisis calls made during that period were answered by counselors who may not have been as familiar with local resources or the best treatment referrals for Arkansans as those in the local crisis center.

Context: The lack of funding and marketing behind the relatively new 988 line have left the lifeline understaffed in some states.

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 the 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.

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.

  • Only six states have enacted legislation to create monthly phone line fees to support the system, similar to how communities fund 911.
  • Six more have bills pending, per NAMI’s tracker.
  • Arkansas has no legislation pending.

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.

Of note: Arkansas has two crisis centers that take National Suicide Prevention Lifeline calls. One is in Springdale and the other is in Little Rock.

Editor's note: This story was corrected to show 988 calls not answered locally would have been rerouted to out-of-state call centers (not that they would have remained unanswered).

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 — or you can text message or call 988.

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