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Ohio's suicide and crisis hotline received 10,000 calls, texts and chats a month in first year

988 is the new Suicide Prevention number. Mental health care advocates believe it will be easier to remember and provide people with an option to receive specialized services 911 can't provide.
Lisa Ryan
Ideastream Public Media
Last year, 988 became the new suicide and crisis prevention number across Ohio. Mental health care advocates believed it would be easier to remember and provide people with an option to receive specialized services 911 couldn't provide. A year after implementation, mental health advocates said thousands have reached out for help.

Northeast Ohio officials and advocates say the statewide implementation of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline one year ago this week, has provided a quicker, easier way for the public to access necessary mental health support and the building blocks of a larger response strategy in Cleveland.

The 988 hotline, which was mandated by the Federal Communications Commission last July, allows individuals to receive the care they need more quickly, said Cleveland's Director of Public Health Dr. David Margolius.

"Just getting to the right person as quickly as possible is the key for 988," he said.

Dialing 988 in Northeast Ohio connects the caller with FrontLine Service, a non-profit that has worked since 1995 to end homelessness, prevent suicide, resolve behavioral health crises and overcome trauma in Northeast Ohio.

Callers speak with mental health specialists who listen to both understand their experience and assess for any immediate safety concerns, according to the organization's website. FrontLine also may dispatch mental health professionals to conduct one-on-one, in-person assessments. The specialists also work to destigmatize talking about suicide and other mental health challenges and help callers, who are mostly teens, explore ways to talk with their parents or other adults to get the help they need.

The 988 hotline is part of Cleveland's broader strategy to improve response to mental crises, including his agency's crisis intervention response plan, said Margolius. The plan includes alternatives to dispatching police on mental health crisis calls. Instead, law enforcement would coordinate with licensed social workers and counselors in certain circumstances.

“The key with a crisis care continuum and mental health is having someone to call, someone who can come see you and somewhere where you can go," Margolius said. "Building up our nonpolice care response, having a direct link to 988, it's really important."

In the last year, the program has successfully handled thousands of calls related to suicide risk and other sorts of trauma in Northeast Ohio, Frontline said July 3 in a news release.

Since the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline expanded statewide a year ago, FrontLine has received an average of 10,000 calls, texts and chats a month, according to the release. Of the nearly 44,000 calls connected to Frontline over the past year, the majority, nearly 80%, were for reasons other than suicide.

This comes as the number of suicides in Ohio increased to 1,766 in 2021, the last year for which numbers are available, according to figures from FrontLine. That increase came after a two-year decline.

The Ohio legislature set aside $46 million for the 988 program in the most recent budget.

Stephen Langel is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media's engaged journalism team.