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Wyoming, New Mexico sees calls to suicide prevention line surge after switch to 988 crisis number

A wallet-sized card that has “988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline” written in the top-left corner and a QR code to its website in the bottom-right corner. In the background is a photo of a woman smiling and looking outside through a window.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
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The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline wallet card, pictured here, is one of the materials meant to help publicize the new three-digit suicide prevention number.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline can be reached by phone or text at “988” and by chat at 988lifeline.org.

In July, the nation got a new three-digit suicide prevention number – 988. A new analysis found the hotline’s call volume jumped 45% in August compared to August 2021, with the number of callers roughly doubling in two states in the Mountain West.

Nationwide, the number of calls, texts and chats to the newly named 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline increased in every state but two, North Dakota and West Virginia, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis published last week.

In the Mountain West, Wyoming saw its number of calls surge 107% in August compared with the same month a year ago. That ranked as the second-highest increase in the country.

New Mexico’s call volume rose 91%, the fourth-highest jump. Calls in Nevada went up 50%, followed by Arizona (43%), Utah (36%), Colorado (23%), Montana (22%) and Idaho (16%).

Despite the surge in calls, answer rates were not affected, says Heather Saunders, a postdoctoral fellow who works on Kaiser’s program on Medicaid and the uninsured.

“There was concern prior to 988 that the demand would increase substantially and that maybe counselors wouldn’t be able to keep up with the demand,” Saunders said. “But it looks like that wasn’t the case, and the majority of calls were answered.”

Saunders says that’s because the federal government made investments to improve call center capacities, including hiring and training staff. Moreover, 23 states – including Idaho, Utah, Nevada and Colorado – have enacted legislation to help implement and fund the merging of 988 into existing crisis call systems.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.
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