988 calls expected to increase in Virginia, roughly 6,000 calls each month

988 calls expected to increase in Virginia, roughly 6,000 calls each month

NORFOLK, Va. — This month for National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month advocates that work to prevent suicide hope to raise awareness, reduce stigma, and share suicide prevention resources in our communities.

One of those resources is the three-digit 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline that was rolled out across the commonwealth and the rest of the country last year. It’s touted as an easier way to access help than the longer National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number.

Based on the data from the first half of the year, 988 call centers expect crisis call volumes to increase from last year. Call centers currently field roughly 6,000 calls in Virginia each month and help connect callers with local resources for a variety of mental health needs.

988 call center staff said this frees up law enforcement and emergency medical resources. Staff added 988 is an improvement from the old number where roughly half of calls in Virginia went unanswered. Now more than 90 percent of calls are answered, 988 staff said, and if there’s no one available the call will be transferred to another nearby center.

“And the reason that’s important is because those callers, now that their calls are being answered in state, they’re able to get access to those mobile crisis teams that are available here in Virginia as well as other community resources that out of state call centers might not be aware of. So, it’s a win for Virginia,” said Alexandria Robinson, crisis call center program manager.

There have been a few challenges with the roll out too. The 988 system is based off of the caller’s area code in order to connect folks with local resources. That means the FCC is still working out how to best help local callers with out-of-state numbers. In the meantime the national network is still able to help.

Another challenge has been high call volumes. Staff said they’re working to boost call center capacity.

Virginia has five call centers waiting to help, including in Hampton Roads. If you or a loved one needs suicide or mental-health crisis support you can call, chat, or text 988.

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