Arizona’s use of mental health line 988 is on the rise

August 25, 2023

Axios: Use of the new 988 mental health crisis line is on the rise in Arizona, though the number of calls remains dwarfed by the number of calls to the state’s preexisting crisis line.

Catch up quick: The Federal Communications Commission designated 988 as the three-digit hotline for suicide prevention and mental health crisis, and the line went into effect last summer.

The big picture: Solari Crisis & Human Services, the state’s primary vendor for the new crisis line, has received an average of about 4,800 calls per month since the launch of 988 in Arizona last July.

  • Yes, but: The preexisting Arizona crisis hotline, for which Solari is also a state vendor, still receives far more calls, averaging about 35,000 per month, according to Thomas Bond, the nonprofit’s senior director for communications, marketing and education.
  • Still, the number of 988 calls “seems to be growing pretty consistently each month,” Bond tells us.
  • 85% of the time, crisis call specialists are able to resolve a situation over the phone. In other cases, Solari can send mobile crisis teams to speak to callers in person.

Reality check: As long as people who are having mental health crises are getting the help they need, it doesn’t matter which line they call.

  • “We feel like, with different entry points to our same call center, any way we can get people the help that they need we feel is a good way. We don’t want to close any doors,” Bond says.
  • The hope is that 988 becomes embedded in the public consciousness as the go-to number for mental health crises the way 911 is for physical emergencies, he says.

Between the lines: Prior to last year, Arizona had three regional 10-digit phone numbers for mental health emergencies.

  • The old numbers still work as well.
  • Regardless of which number you call, you’ll ultimately end up reaching the same people.

Zoom out: 988 usage isn’t increasing vis-à-vis the statewide line so much as calls are broadly on the rise, Anne Ngamsombat, crisis coordinator at the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), tells Axios Phoenix.

  • She says many 988 callers may be people who have never used the older crisis line, meaning 988 is reaching new people.

Why it matters: In 2021, suicide took 1,475 lives in Arizona, making it the 10th leading cause of death in the state, according to ADHS.

Zoom in: The top five reasons people call 988 are thoughts of suicide or self-harm, depression, coordination of care, anxiety and social concerns, Bond says.

  • “We don’t try to define what a crisis is. Anyone can call for whatever they feel is a crisis in their mind,” he says.

Of note: May 31 is the final day of Mental Health Awareness Month.

If you or anyone you know is having a mental crisis, you can call 988 or 844-534-4673 (844-534-HOPE) or numerous other lines.

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