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New Resource: 988 Mental Health Hotline

Rachel Andrews, Mental Health Therapist, Southwest Behavioral Services

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), as of July 16, 2022, anyone across the U.S. in mental health distress can call or text 988 or use the online chat function on www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org to connect with a counselor through the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

People who reside in Wisconsin and use 988 will connect with an in-state service that they fund known as the Wisconsin Lifeline. This will be a fantastic resource for getting assistance to those who need mental health aid quickly and easily.

This is a much-needed resource as the current statistics from the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) show that 859,000 Wisconsin adults struggle with a mental health condition, which is more than 3x the population of Madison. Of those 859,000 adults, 244,000 have a severe mental illness. In February 2021, 36.4% of adults in Wisconsin reported symptoms of anxiety or depression and 18.6% were unable to get the counseling or therapy they needed.

Adolescents are also struggling. Statistics from NAMI continue to say that of those ages 12-17, about 70,000 struggle with depression. 41.8% of these 70,000 of those Wisconsin children aged 12–17 who have depression did not receive any care in the last year.

In the search for accessible mental health care, Wisconsin residents are over four times more likely to be forced out-of-network for mental health care than primary health care, making it more challenging to find care and less affordable due to higher out-of-pocket costs. It is estimated that about 2,185,992 people who live in Wisconsin live in a community that does not have enough mental health professionals. As a result of these statistics and other factors in Wisconsin, 888 lives were lost to suicide, and 231,000 adults had thoughts of suicide in the last year.

In an effort to commit to health and wellness, Southwest Health became a Zero Suicide organization in 2018. Being a zero suicide organization means that the organization is committed to:

  • lead a culture change that is committed to reducing suicide
  • train a competent and caring workforce
  • identify patients with suicide risk via screening tools
  • engage all individuals at risk of suicide using a suicide care management plan
  • treat suicidal thoughts and behaviors using evidence-based treatments
  • transition individuals through care with a warm hand-off and supportive contacts
  • improve policies and procedures through continuous quality improvement

By doing this, we hope to continue to show our dedication to mental health awareness, proper care, and assistance to those who need it to hopefully see a day where we won’t have to have a hotline for suicide. But for now, we hope this number can help be an additional resource for those who are currently still struggling and provide some reassurance to the loved ones of those who were lost that help is on its way.

Suicide claims nearly one million lives annually—the equivalent of one death every 40 seconds!

Nearly half of those who die by suicide have met with their primary care provider in the month before dying by suicide. Twenty-five percent of young adults have suicidal thoughts. Twenty-five percent of people presenting to emergency rooms for non-psychiatric reasons will die by suicide within one year. These numbers are staggering and unacceptable. What is acceptable? Zero. Zero is the only acceptable number.

Southwest Health is committed to the Zero Suicide initiative to prevent suicide and save lives by adopting the Columbia Lighthouse Project’s Protocol – the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) screening tool. This evidence-based tool is used to identify those at risk for suicide and assist them in getting the help they need. Patients of all ages presenting to our inpatient units, outpatient clinics, and emergency services are routinely asked a short series of questions about suicide.

The tool is simple, efficient, evidence-supported, and, most importantly, effective. Asking people about their thoughts and behaviors is the first critical step in preventing suicide. Asking the right questions can save lives. Healthcare providers are in key positions to ask these questions to their patients on a routine basis to ensure patient safety. Streamlining this tool into everyday practice allows us to improve the care provided to our patients and focus resources where they are the most helpful to better serve our community.