It’s been a little over a year since the launch of the national 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, transitioning from the 10-digit Suicide Prevention Lifeline that’s been available since 2005. The three-digit number is designed to make it easy for people to remember and reach out for help, similar to 911.
You can call, text, or chat online with 988 to get real-time, free, and confidential mental health support and crisis resources 24/7. The Lifeline is there to help those experiencing thoughts of suicide, a substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress.
The Lifeline is made up of a network of 200 local and state crisis centers located across the United States. Solari Crisis & Human Services is Arizona’s primary 988 provider. Their trained crisis counselors are on the other end of the phone when an Arizona resident calls in.
This Suicide Prevention Month, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona sat down with Cassie Villegas, Solari’s Senior Director of Contact Center Operations and Clinical Services, to reflect on the first year, address frequently asked questions, and raise awareness for the lifeline.
In its first year, did 988 and Solari’s work have life-saving impacts?
We believe it has been a success overall. We have received positive feedback from callers, particularly on follow-ups, that just someone answering their call saved their life. We are interacting with people through 988 who had not previously accessed crisis services, so it is broadening Solari’s reach throughout the state and allowing us to connect more people to local resources.
How many calls does Solari get a month, on average?
On 988 we receive around 5,500 calls a month. There were more than 63,000 calls within the first year of 988 in Arizona.
What are you seeing as the most common reason(s) people are calling?
The most common reason for calls on all our lines, including 988, is callers experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
988 calls are routed by area code. Arizona is a ‘transplant state,’ so what happens when an AZ resident with an out-of-state area code calls in?
That is correct, 988 calls are currently routed by area code so we may be missing some Arizonans at our local center through 988. But either way – the call will be answered. No matter where someone is located in the United States or what their area code is, they will be connected to either a local call center or the national network as a backup.
If an Arizonan is routed to the national network, do they still receive local support and resources?
National backup centers employ the same qualified/trained crisis counselors as the local 988 lines do and, in fact, Solari serves as one of a dozen around the country. Many national backup centers serve as local centers as well, including Solari. If a caller gets routed to a national backup center, they will receive the same quality service as from their local center. If a local resource is needed, such as a mobile team dispatch, there is a transfer method to get that person to their local center for further assistance. If the caller is more comfortable speaking with a local center, they can also request to be transferred.
What can people expect when they contact 988?
Calls and texts are answered quickly by a real person. We will ask for your name, birthdate, and phone number, but keep in mind, you can remain anonymous. The information provided is private and confidential. We will also ask if you are thinking about suicide or harming anyone else.
On average, it takes nine seconds to answer the call. Callers are offered a follow-up and, if they agree, a time/day that works for them is agreed upon and scheduled. Follow-ups typically occur anywhere between 24-72 hours after the initial call, but can also be part of a safety plan and occur the same day. Each situation is handled independently to meet the unique needs of the caller.
How many crisis agents does Solari have?
Solari has approximately 200 crisis specialists across all our lines of business. We have a workforce management team that monitors call-volume-to-staff ratios and makes timely and ongoing adjustments to ensure that we are staffed appropriately as volume increases or new lines are added.
How often do crisis agents help someone without additional support like EMS?
Solari is able to resolve the crisis situation by phone around 85% of the time. When additional support is needed, this is typically in the form of a crisis mobile team dispatch. Crisis staff are trained to use the least restrictive intervention, however, there are times when safety concerns necessitate a response from a first responder (around 1% of calls). Solari is also able to coordinate with crisis stabilization units or detox facilities directly to determine bed availability and strategize for transport with the caller.
Name three things you would like people to know so they are more comfortable contacting 988 if they need help?
It is important people know that this service is free to them, including if they need a mobile team response. They will not receive a bill for services no matter what their insurance status is. Secondly, callers can remain completely anonymous and share only the information they feel comfortable with (i.e., first name only). Lastly, crisis lines can be utilized as a preventative tool, and we encourage people to call in at any stage they may be in. Don’t wait for a crisis, call early to help prevent a crisis. And they can call in for others to get support and resources, or to request outreach to a person they are concerned about.
Are there other resources outside of 988 that Arizonans can lean on during a mental health crisis?
Arizona has a robust crisis system that many residents are familiar with. We get approximately 45,000 calls a month to these statewide lines. We have tried to create a “no wrong door” policy offering Arizonans several options to reach out for assistance.
For a list of other statewide and national resources, visit the resources page on Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona’s Behavioral Health website: Resources (azblue.com).