988 Lifeline: Reflecting on first year of mental health crisis support line

By Regence
July 18, 2023
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Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States; it was responsible for over 48,000 deaths in 2021. Last July, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) created a three-digit dialing code as America's new suicide prevention and mental health crisis lifeline to help address this critical issue. People who call, text or chat 988 are connected to trained counselors.

The first year of 988

Since the launch of this vital community resource, the volume of calls and texts to crisis centers has skyrocketed. In just one year, more than 5 million calls, chats and texts have been routed to 988, a 66% increase from the previous 12 months. Despite the drastic increase in use, public awareness of the service remains low – a recent survey found that only 17% of Americans know about 988.

While communities and organizations work together to continue raising awareness for 988, it’s important to pause and recognize the impact it has already had on those who need it.

Innovations to improve equity and access

Improvements to the system have gradually rolled out over the course of the year to increase access for all people experiencing crisis.  

When 988 was launched, people who called in were connected to the closest and most readily available crisis center. Now, callers have the option to connect to a line that might better fit their cultural identities. These options include a veterans and military families line, an LGBTQ+ line, an American Indian and Alaska Native line (exclusive to Washington State), interpretation for over 240 languages and dialects and a newly launched Spanish chat and text option. When a user selects one of these options, they’re routed to crisis centers that specialize in working with these specific populations.

Increasing access to behavioral health care

In the last year, Regence has added more than 1,500 behavioral health providers across our health plans. Most of our health plans offer virtual mental health treatment options from providers such as AbleTo Therapy+Doctor on DemandTalkspaceCharlie Health, and more. Our customer service team is trained in Mental Health First Aid to help direct those who may be experiencing a mental health crisis to the right care at the right time.

Regence is focused on increasing access to innovative, person-centered behavioral health services by partnering with schools, community-based and culturally specific organizations, and primary care providers. The community-based organizations behind 988 have been crucial to expanding access to mental health care across the country.

"988 has improved access to the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis lifeline. When someone dials 988, they are connected to a trained counselor, many times in their local community, who can provide immediate assistance and, in many situations, can connect them to local resources,” said Dr. Mike Franz, senior medical director of behavioral health at Regence. “The easy-to-remember number removes an access barrier and increases the likelihood that someone will ask for help, the first step on the road for treatment.”

Supporting community partners

The higher demand for mental health services has also increased the risk of burnout among behavioral health care workers. In a 2022 survey, 50% of behavioral health providers reported experiencing symptoms of burnout.

To address this need, Regence’s corporate foundation directed over $300,000 to six local crisis centers to support their workforce. The crisis centers used the funding to invest in training, development and self-care opportunities for their staff. In addition, they diversified staffing to strengthen services for underserved communities. Organizations that received funding across our four states include:

  • Crisis Connections (Washington): Provided additional training and wellness packages for all 215 employees.
  • Huntsman Mental Health Institute Utah Crisis Line (Utah): Created a staff fitness room and decompression space as well as purchased ergonomically correct office equipment and stress reduction tools like arts, crafts and wellness gifts for each employee.
  • Idaho Crisis & Suicide Hotline (Idaho): Trained staff to advance crisis care for individuals with substance misuse conditions and hired recruiting services to expand their workforce.
  • Lines for Life (Oregon): Supported professional growth including the launch of a new training program that allows new staff to shadow trained counselors.
  • Northwest Human Services (Oregon): Hired new employees to meet the demand of 988 and allowed for six employees to attend a national suicide prevention conference including advancing culturally appropriate prevention efforts. Also purchased new equipment to allow for remote work flexibility and created a decompression space for all staff.
  • Volunteers of America Western Washington (Washington): Offered new training opportunities and funded a new workforce management software. Currently, they are hiring for a wellness coordinator who will address secondary trauma and burnout related to the intensity of the work.

These investments are a reflection of our corporate foundation’s commitment to expanding access to integrated behavioral health services to create a more equitable system of whole-person health for people living in our communities.

We’re here to help

988 is an important resource for individuals experiencing crisis, but it’s important to care for your mental health on an ongoing basis. If you or your loved one needs emotional support or mental health care, we can help you find the behavioral health care option that fits your needs. We encourage you to call our customer service team at the number listed on your member ID card to verify which virtual care and traditional behavioral health options are available through your health plan.