BOISE, Idaho — For more than 10 years, dispatchers with Idaho's Crisis and Suicide Hotline have helped people through mental health crises.
"Most of the time, we're able to engage with that person who's reaching out and really help them reduce their stress and help them de-escalate," director Lee Flinn said.
Over the past year, the agency has reached more people. She said calls have increased by nearly 10% since 988, the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, launched last July.
Dispatchers answer about 2,000 calls every month, Flinn said. That is about 50 to 70 calls daily.
Since the number is shorter and easier to remember, help is much more accessible. Before, Flinn said the multiple crises number made it difficult for people to remember how to get help.
Once someone from Idaho dials 988, they listen to a series of options. If that person chooses to stay on the line, they are automatically connected with a dispatcher from Idaho's Crisis and Suicide Hotline.
"We really listen and learn what's happening with that person right at that moment," Flinn said. "And then, if they're willing, we're able to engage them in making a safety plan to really keep themselves safe."
Idaho Department of Health and Welfare data shows the Gem State had the 11th-highest suicide rate in 2019. In 2022, more than 440 Idahoans died by suicide.
Flinn said suicide numbers throughout the entire Intermountain West are concerning.
"Westerners don't really like to ask for help," she said. "That's one reason why the suicide rate is so high. Another reason people think we have high... rates is access to firearms."
Raising awareness about 988 will hopefully help bring those rates down, Flinn said. The more people who call the lifeline, the more people get help.
Nicole Coleman, DHW 988 project manager, agrees. From August 2022 to May 2023, she said the Division of Behavioral Health's social media posts about 988 have reached more than 7 million people.
Currently, Coleman said they are trying to build relationships between the various mental health services. In addition to the hotline, there are adult and youth crisis centers available across the state.
"We definitely need to continue to work to provide behavioral health services to people," she said. "Our hope is that the more people know that a simple three-digit number is available for folks, that they will reach out."
Flinn said 988 is a resource for everyone, not just those experiencing a mental health crisis. People can call on behalf of a family member or friend who may need help.
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