PROVIDENCE — Since the state launched a new suicide and crisis hotline more than a year ago, the number of Rhode Islanders calling into the system seeking help has increased by more than 50 percent.
Rhode Island launched the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline in July 2022. From July 2022 through June 2023, the line fielded nearly 6,300 calls, which was a 58 percent increase compared to the nearly 4,000 calls during the previous year through the 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number.
The 988 crisis line was created thanks in part to legislation spearheaded by Rhode Island U.S. Senator Jack Reed, who advocated for the importance of having a three-digit number that would make it easier for people to seek help. Nationwide, the 988 Lifeline has fielded nearly five million calls, texts, and chats during its first year, connecting those seeking help to more than 200 local and state crisis centers.
In Rhode Island, communications to 988 are directed to trained staff —including clinicians, nurses, psychiatrists, peer specialists, and case managers — through BH Link, the state’s around-the-clock behavioral health triage/crisis center in East Providence.
Approximately 42 percent of calls to the 988 Lifeline resulted in the caller being connected with specific behavioral health or community resources, according to Governor Dan McKee’s office. Less than 2 percent resulted in first responder dispatch.
“In its first year of operation, 988 has helped thousands of Rhode Islanders and millions of Americans find help and support,” said Reed in a statement Sept. 20. “We’ve got to ensure the resources are there to save lives.”
While the improved crisis hotline has tackled previous accessibility issues, 988 call centers across the United States have reportedly faced a new challenge in finding volunteers and staff members. In Rhode Island, the 988 Crisis Call Center has 15 job openings posted on its website, including for counselors, nurses, clinical supervisors, drivers, and other behavioral health workers.
The federal government invested more than $1 billion in lifeline’s launch and implementation, but the responsibility to carry out the local call centers — including ongoing funding — is in the hands of states.
In August, 413,872 calls were made to 988 nationally, according to data released by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, which oversees the lifeline.
Despite the lifeline’s early success, most states have not yet permanently funded their call centers.
“We don’t know what Congress will allocate in the future,” Danielle Bennett, a spokesperson for SAMHSA, told CBS News in late August. “But the hope is that there will be continued strong bipartisan support for funding 988 at the level it needs to be funded at, and that states will also create funding mechanisms that make sense for their states.”