Introducing 988: The National Lifeline for Suicide Prevention

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Introducing 988: The National Lifeline for Suicide Prevention

By Governor Pete Ricketts

July 12, 2022

Governor’s Official Photo here.

In Nebraska, we have endured more than our fair share of adversity over the past 3 years. The March 2019 floods were the most widespread natural disaster in state history. Then the coronavirus hit our state in March 2020 and continued to upend lives throughout 2021. This spring our state experienced the worst wildfires in a decade. Meanwhile, families face the financial pressures of the highest inflation in more than 40 years.

Our communities have weathered these successive disasters with inspiring strength, showing the courage and resilience that Nebraskans are known for. As a result, we are in great shape as a state. However, these challenges have taken a toll on the mental health of many of our families, friends and neighbours. It is imperative that we look after the mental well-being of our loved ones and provide immediate help to those in need.

July 16eNebraska is rolling out the new suicide prevention lifeline 988. It’s modeled after 911 and gives callers a simple, easy-to-remember number to dial for help during a mental health crisis.

Although it can be difficult to start conversations about mental health, talking about mental illness can save lives. It’s never too early to seek help for mental health issues, whether it’s for yourself or someone you love. Use your eyes, ears, and heart to watch for signs of mental distress. These may include:

  • The Depression
  • Expressions of despair about the future
  • Display of severe or overwhelming emotional pain
  • Marked behavioral changes, such as:
    • Isolation or withdrawal from social ties
    • Changes in sleep patterns (increase or decrease)
    • Anger or hostility that seems out of context or unusual
    • Increased restlessness or irritability
    • Hypervigilance

If you suspect someone is considering ending their life, you can ask them directly. From July 16eyou can also dial 988 if you are concerned that a loved one may need crisis assistance.

Nebraskanians calling 988 will be in excellent hands. Almost all calls made to 988 will be answered by Nebraskanians working at Boys Town, our state partner in suicide prevention. The Boys Town National Helpline has provided crisis hotline services since 1989 and has been Nebraska’s provider for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline since 2005. In 2021, Boys Town treated 8,777 calls from Nebraska. Their team defused over 97% of calls to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline without requiring external emergency response.

The new lifeline number, 988, provides a direct connection to trained and compassionate counselors for anyone suffering from mental distress or suicidal thoughts. Support is available 24/7, and all calls are free and confidential.

Switching to 988 doesn’t mean the old Suicide hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) will go away. After July 16, 2022, both numbers will allow callers to access the same services.

Nebraska has highly trained Mobile Crisis Response Teams working around the clock throughout the state. These teams will work closely with 988 counselors to follow up on calls made to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Mobile crisis teams include clinicians who can make house calls or establish telehealth connections to help Nebraskanians.

The state has been proactive in ensuring Nebraskanians have access to behavioral health resources. US news and world report ranks Nebraska fourth in the nation for mental health. And we have a lower suicide rate than any surrounding state. While these statistics are encouraging, we know there is much more we can do.

The availability of 988 is a great addition to the variety of resources we offer statewide for those dealing with mental health issues. We continue to partner with nonprofits, behavioral healthcare providers, and schools to help prevent suicides. Here are some of our main efforts:

  • Earlier this year, the state invested $40 million in ARPA funds to build our behavioral healthcare capacity. Additionally, the legislature has allocated $60 million for a rural health complex at UNK, which will help expand the education of rural health care providers. The senators also allocated $5 million for a loan repayment program for people pursuing careers as nurses or behavioral health professionals.
  • June 6eWe launched the Governor’s Challenge to prevent suicide among military members, veterans and their families.
  • The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) received a five-year federal grant in 2018 to establish a behavioral health “system of care” to support those struggling with mental illness in a less restrictive. Since its launch, there have been over 1,800 youth crisis intervention meetings. Of these encounters, 75% successfully resolved the immediate crisis and supported youth and their families in the community without the need to refer them to hospital care.
  • DHHS collaborated with the Nebraska Department of Education, schools, educational service units, and localized care systems to create the Behavioral Health Resource Guide for Schools. It serves as a mental health toolkit that identifies local protocols for accessing behavioral health services.
  • Nearly 30,000 Nebraskans have been trained in Question, Persuader, Refer (QPR), a suicide prevention program.
  • The state provided mental health first aid training to 943 people last year. Trainees are equipped with the skills to respond to signs of mental illness and substance use.
  • DHHS, in partnership with Boys Town, operates the 24-hour Nebraska Family Helpline (888-866-8660). Since its launch in 2010, the Helpline has received over 68,300 calls.

With 988 going into effect, we are well positioned to help Nebraskanians in times of need. Thank you to DHHS, Boys Town and the many advisors and providers who worked together to make the lifeline launch a success.

If you have questions about the State of Nebraska’s work to provide access to mental health care, please email [email protected] or call 402-471-2244. If you would like to help us spread the word about 988, we have created a toolkit which can be downloaded at dhhs.ne.gov/Pages/988.aspx. Together, let’s check on the mental health of our loved ones and spread the word about the new 988 service.

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