Calls to crisis line go up in Sedgwick County following 988 rollout

By Celia Hack / KMUW

WICHITA, Kan. (KMUW) — Calls routed to Sedgwick County’s crisis center via national suicide hotlines went up nearly 30% percent during the first month of the new 988 hotline.

In mid-July, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Line replaced the 10-digit national suicide prevention lifeline around the U.S. The goal of the new number is to provide a crisis line for mental health emergencies similar to 911.

Calls to the 988 hotline are routed to local crisis centers, like Sedgwick County’s. In 2022, the center received 273 calls via the new hotline between July 16 and August 21. The prior year, the center received 211 calls from the old suicide hotline during the same time period.

Jennifer Wilson, the director of Sedgwick County’s crisis center, says the increase in calls has largely come from people seeking information about resources the 988 hotline can provide.

“We haven’t really seen an increase in suicidal callers,” Wilson said. “But we have received a slight increase in callers just really wondering if 988 works and how they can access it should they need it.”

Wilson said many people have called to seek help for friends or family who are struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues. The hotline is staffed by a trained counselor who can speak with the caller about their concerns or connect them with in-person mental health resources.

The new number is more accessible because it’s so much shorter, said Eric Litwiller, director of development and communications for the Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas. He added that he expected an increase in call volume because of this.

“The national suicide hotline is a 10-digit number,” Litwiller said. “… I guarantee you, you walk on out the street and ask 100 people what that number is and not a single one would’ve been able to tell you.”

With the rollout of the hotline, both the state and federal government have provided increased funding. A bipartisan bill in Kansas appropriated $10 million annually for mobile crisis units that can respond to 988 calls in person, according to the Kansas Reflector.

Sedgwick County received funding to hire five more call takers and one more mobile crisis clinician, Wilson said. The center operates a mobile unit, but Wilson said staffing challenges mean it can’t be available all the time.

“If we’re unable to respond safely, we won’t be able to deploy that mobile unit,” Wilson said. “But we always … take our walk-in patients. So if someone has a way to get here, we can work with them 24/7.”

This article was republished here with the permission of: KMUW, Kansas News Service