This mural in downtown Boise is part of an advertising campaign for the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline. (Loren Morris/For the Idaho Capital Sun)
Beginning today, Idahoans may dial 988 to call the new mental health and suicide prevention hotline that is going live across the country.
The idea behind the new hotline is similar to 911. It offers an easy to remember, three-digit number to dial for anyone in a mental health crisis 24 hours a day. The difference is that the calls won’t go to law enforcement; calls will be answered by a network of more than 200 trained crisis call centers. Callers with an Idaho area code will be routed to the Idaho Crisis and Suicide hotline, 988 project manager Nicole Coleman said.
The 988 hotline replaces and consolidates other state and national suicide prevention and mental health hotlines into one short number for callers all across the United States.
During a meeting of the Idaho Council of Indian Affairs last week, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen encouraged everyone to begin memorizing 988 as the new number to call in a mental health emergency.
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What happens when you call the 988 mental health hotline?
On the hotline, experts will be available to help intervene in a crisis, support and de-escalate the caller or refer the caller to an array of local services.
“988 is the new national suicide and crisis lifeline. It will be the 911 equivalent for behavioral health crises and an integral part of Idaho’s crisis care continuum,” Coleman said in a written statement. “The 988 partnership is committed to empathetic and culturally responsive services based on best practices. This continuum of care includes, but isn’t limited to, crisis de-escalation over the phone, appropriate crisis mobile response, behavioral health service linkage, and crisis follow-up.”
The new 988 hotline launches in Idaho this weekend following about two years of groundwork from Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and Division of Behavioral Health, along with support from Medicaid and public health districts, Coleman said.
New hotline receives Idaho’s elected officials’ support
This year, the hotline received an additional $4.4 million in one-time state funding approved by the Idaho Legislature from Gov. Brad Little’s behavioral health care plan, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare spokesman Greg Stahl said.
During the 2021 legislative session, the Idaho House of Representatives and Idaho Senate voted to adopt House Concurrent Resolution 11, a resolution that signals the Legislature’s support and promotion for the 988 hotline. In the resolution, Idaho legislators noted that Idaho’s suicide rate was 41% higher than the national average as of 2019 and that the state has a shortage of mental health and primary care providers.
“988 will improve access to mental health support for all Idahoans, especially those in rural communities with few health care providers; and … promotion of 988 will help raise awareness of mental health and suicide prevention and decrease stigma associated with asking for help,” the resolution states.
In Congress, U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, was one of the co-sponsors of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020, which required the Federal Communications Commission to designate 988 as the universal suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline. Former President Donald J. Trump signed the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020 into law that same year.
On Friday at the Idaho GOP Convention in Twin Falls, Crapo assembled a group of people involved in suicide prevention and crisis intervention efforts from across Idaho, including St. Luke’s Behavioral Health, school counselors, police and fire department staff and the Boise Vet Center. Veterans and those in active military service will have the option to press 1 after calling 988 or the old suicide prevention hotline number, which will route the call to resources that specialize in care for military members.
Crapo said the launch of the hotline is just the beginning, and there is more work to be done at the national and state level to ensure stable sources of funding for 988 and adequate staffing.
“One of the key initiatives we are engaged in is to incentivize the increase in number of people in America who are available, because those who need help take up your time 24/7 every day, and there still aren’t enough of you to help,” Crapo said.
Rep. Laurie Lickley, R-Jerome, also attended the press conference as a speaker. Lickley is a member of Idaho’s Behavioral Health Council and could be a member of the Idaho Senate in the 2023 legislative session.
Lickley said she expects the Idaho Legislature to address the funding issues in the future, but it will take some time to determine what is needed.
“We see a path forward, and with your voice, the voices behind us, your family and their voice, and the community here today, we are partners in implementing your treatment and your recovery,” Lickley said. “This is a lifelong path, and we are with you.”
Idaho Capital Sun reporter Kelcie Moseley-Morris contributed to this report.
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