While 11% of Arizona’s 988 calls go unanswered, that doesn’t tell the full story

August 25, 2023

ABC15: 988 is the nationwide mental health crisis line that launched over a year ago and is gaining momentum in the public consciousness. But not every caller is actually waiting long enough to talk to an operator.

If you are struggling or know someone who is, do not suffer alone. Call 988 or 1-844-534-HOPE or text 988 or “HOPE” to 4hope.

The Kaiser Family Foundation has tracked 988’s answer rates across the country. Their research found 11.4% of 988 calls in Arizona in April and May went unanswered, which actually was better than the nationwide average. 45% of calls in Alabama went unanswered over the same time period.

But those numbers leave out important context. Most of the state’s 988 calls go through Solari Crisis and Human Services in Phoenix.

“The challenge with 988 we see is it has an automated system on the front end that’s over 40 seconds long,” said Solari, Inc. President and CEO Justin Chase. “Sometimes that’s too long for an individual to want to wait to get to a crisis communicator and that really impacts those numbers.”

That automated system is part of the federal system and not seen in the existing Arizona mental health hotline – 1-888-534-HOPE.

“That differs from 988 because its live answered 100% of the time,” Chase said. “So as soon as you dial that phone number, in 9 seconds we’re going to have someone on the other end ready to talk to you.”

Riana Alexander is the Founder and Director of Arizona Students for Mental Health.

“I used to do that. I used to call and think ‘like no my issues not important enough’ and just hang up and deal with it myself,” Alexander said. “That’s their job. They’re there to help you. Your issue is just as important as anybody else’s.”

When the phone does ring at Solari, Inc. their operators have a 98% answer rate.

“911 doesn’t even have the same ability to answer,” Chase said.

The state’s 988 line is averaging more than 6,000 calls a month – up 40% from last year. The state’s long-standing ten-digit number is still fielding more than 35,000 calls each month.

People can also send a text or online chat to get help – and even can call in to help a friend or family member in crisis.

“There’s no shame in calling 988, no shame in asking for help, it’s super brave and super courageous,” Alexander said.

The behavioral health-trained staff can answer calls in both Spanish and English and often resolve the crisis without in-person intervention.

“85% to 90% of the calls that come in are able to be stabilized right on the phone,” Chase said.

If you are struggling or know someone who is, do not suffer alone. Call 988 or 1-844-534-HOPE or text 988 or “HOPE” to 4hope.

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