MENTAL HEALTH

Despite reports of unanswered calls, many Utahns get help through 988

Jul 25, 2023, 6:54 PM

SALT LAKE CITY — Almost 9% of calls made to 988, the suicide and crisis lifeline in Utah, went unanswered according to data from April and May of this year.

There are a number of reasons for that and the people behind the lifeline say no calls are going to voicemail.

“If someone is in crisis, they are going to get care. Period,” Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City said.

Recent data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which does health policy research, showed 8.8% of Utah’s 988 calls last April and May were unanswered.

Thatcher said, “The 9% that we’re talking about is 9% that come during a spike when all of the lines are tied up and they will actually route to another state.”

The people taking the calls at the Utah call center try to answer as soon as possible.

“Ninety percent of the time we’re able to answer those calls but if we can’t get to it in 120 seconds or less, then that call will be routed to one of the national backup centers,” said Rachel Lucynski director, of Community Crisis Intervention and Support Services.

The callers will be connected to a real human, they just may not have access to local resources.

Thatcher added, “One hundred percent of people that call 988 in the state of Utah are getting care.”

He pushed for the three-digit hotline and he said Utah’s answer rate is better than most states.

“We do see that a large number of calls that go unanswered are because people hang up before our team can even reach for the answer call button,” Thatcher said.

There are other reasons calls drop.

Lucynski said people may call two or three times before they actually go through with the call.

“Folks can be very nervous to make that phone call,” she said.

Cell service is also a consideration. “If someone’s in a place where they have spotty cell service, certainly they could drop the call on their end,” Lucynski said.

Those who’ve worked on the hotline said not one person calling for help is getting abandoned.

“Let’s be clear,” Thatcher said. “If there was a single person not getting care, we would move heaven and earth to get the resources necessary to make sure everyone was being taken care of.”

Lucynski said call surges can happen at any time, and there may not be someone to handle each one.

“We are like every other service though susceptible to workforce challenges knowing that the nature of crisis services is really difficult work,” she said.

They are hiring people to fill these positions. You can get more information on jobs here.

Suicide prevention resources

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting warning signs, call, text, or chat the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 which is answered 24/7/365 by crisis counselors at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. All calls to legacy crisis hotlines, including the old National Suicide Prevention hotline, 1-800-273-8255, will also connect to a crisis care worker at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute as well.

Additional resources

  • SafeUT: Parents, students, and educators can connect with a licensed crisis counselor through chat by downloading the SafeUT app or by calling 833-3SAFEUT (833-372-33888)
  • SafeUT Frontline: First responders, including firefighters, law enforcement, EMS, and healthcare professionals can chat with a licensed crisis counselor at no cost 24/7/365 by downloading the SafeUT Frontline app.
  • SafeUTNG: Members of the National Guard can chat with a licensed crisis counselor at no cost 24/7/365 by downloading the SafeUTNG app.
  • Utah Warm Line: For non-crisis situations, when you need a listening ear as you heal and recover from a personal struggle, call 1-833 SPEAKUT 8:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m., 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
  • The Huntsman Mental Health Institute offers a wide variety of programs and services including suicide prevention and crisis services, hospital treatment, therapy & medication management, substance Use & addiction recovery, child & teen programs, and maternal mental health services including birth trauma, pregnancy loss, infertility, and perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
  • LiveOnUtah.org is a statewide effort to prevent suicide by promoting education, providing resources, and changing Utah’s culture around suicide and mental health. They offer resources for faith based groups, LGBTQ+, youth, employers, firearm suicide prevention, and crisis and treatment options.

Other community-based resources

Center for Workplace Mental Health offers suicide prevention and response for employers.

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Despite reports of unanswered calls, many Utahns get help through 988