June 21, 2022

A new mental health number launches soon. Here’s how Indiana is preparing

In the first three months of this year, Indiana answered 3 out of 4 in-state calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. - Photo by Marília Castelli / Unsplash

In the first three months of this year, Indiana answered 3 out of 4 in-state calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Photo by Marília Castelli / Unsplash

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK – or text “HOME” to 741741.

On July 16, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will launch a new three-digit number, 988. It’s slated to be the mental health version of 911 and make it easier for people to access mental health care.

It’s also expected to lead to an increase in calls. But many states already struggle to keep up with the current call volume.

In the first three months of this year, Indiana answered 3 out of 4 in-state calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is about average. The rest of the calls were redirected to other states, and about 12 percent of calls from Indiana during that time period — a little more than 1,000 — dropped off before anyone answered.

An analysis of Suicide Prevention Lifeline data reveals that nationwide during the same time period, 18 percent of all calls were abandoned before the caller got help.

In an email, Jim Gavin, a spokesman for Indiana’s Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA), said the state’s goal is to answer 90 percent of calls from Indiana in state by 2023, by partnering with up to five call centers.

Currently, Indiana has three crisis call centers: in Gary, Muncie and Lafayette.

In addition, “Mental Health America of Indiana, Indianapolis, and RemedyLIVE, Fort Wayne, are in the process of becoming a 988 center,” Gavin said.

Mental health advocates say state-level funding is needed to sustain crisis services. But for now, there is no state funding for the 988 hotline in Indiana. Gavin said FSSA will use federal funding to increase call center capacity.

Some Indiana call centers are hiring for open positions, according to a listing of 988 jobs compiled by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Federal funding to help scale up staffing at call centers includes $105 million dedicated to hiring at local centers across the country. That money is being channeled through state-level agencies.

While FSSA is still in the process of finalizing contracts with call centers for their 988 work, Gavin said centers have received other federal capacity-building grants over the past three years.

In addition, “local communities and community mental health centers across Indiana have been establishing and sustaining mobile crisis teams via local and federal funding.”

One of the goals of the mobile crisis response approach is to minimize law enforcement involvement during mental health crises and dispatch mental health professionals and paramedics instead of police.

For now, the existing mobile crisis teams are “not yet part of Indiana's 988 crisis system, but will be in the near future as we increase capacity, and improve technology, to ensure crisis services are more coordinated across the state,” Gavin said.

Indiana is using the arrival of 988 to invest in a broader crisis response system, he added.

“This will ultimately include more than just someone to contact at a 988 center, but also someone to respond and a safe place to go for help, if needed,” he said. “The ‘safe place for help’ portion of the system will include an expansion of in-person crisis stabilization services.”

The state will continue to operate its 211 line — a phone and text line that connects Hoosiers to local resources including food pantries, homeless shelters and mental health crisis services.

“Many Hoosiers are familiar with the support offered by Indiana 211, including the option of reaching a crisis specialist through the Be Well Crisis Helpline at that number,” Gavin said. “It will take time for Hoosiers to gain the same familiarity with 988, so we will maintain the option... at least for the time being.”

Contact health reporter Carter Barrett at cbarrett@wfyi.org. Follow on Twitter: @carter_barrett.

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