New national crisis hotline, 988, available in Idaho

Photo courtesy of WCIV

The new 988 crisis hotline makes help more accessible to Idahoans experiencing a mental health crisis.

The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which took effect in July 2022, was designed to establish a simple, universal way for individuals in crisis to access the resources and support that they need. This is particularly critical in Idaho where suicide is 1.5x higher than the national average.

Calls to 988 are directed to various call centers based on the caller’s area code. For those with an Idaho area code (208), calls are directed to the Idaho Crisis and Suicide Hotline

The Idaho Crisis and Suicide Hotline was founded in 2012 and serves as a 24/7 resource for those struggling with mental health.  

“Not everybody that reaches out to us feels suicidal,” said Lee Flinn, director of the Idaho Crisis and Suicide Hotline. “Our goal is to help a person during their crisis, regardless of what their crisis is.”

Individuals who call the hotline will be connected to a trained crisis responder whose role is to de-escalate the current situation and help the individual stay safe. 

Crisis responder positions are filled by both volunteers and paid staff. These individuals can be anyone in the community who are at least 21 and have a dedication to helping others. 

While the requirements to become a responder are minimal, before ever taking a call each responder goes through extensive training and practice to ensure they have all the tools necessary to help each caller. 

Most of the time talking the situation through with someone is enough to keep the caller safe, but when needed the responder can also connect someone to the closest crisis center, such as Pathways in Boise, or request for a mobile crisis team of trained mental health professionals to check on the individual. 

“We’re not sending law enforcement to your house,” Flinn said. “Our crisis responders conduct a safety assessment and support [the caller] in developing a plan to stay safe.”

These resources provided by the Idaho Crisis and Suicide Hotline have been around for more than a decade, but the previous 10-digit phone number, unlike 911, was not commonly known. 

By establishing a three-digit number, the hope is that more people will be aware of the resource and will utilize it when needed. 

To prepare for this prospective influx of callers, the Idaho Crisis and Suicide Hotline partnered with a team of students from Boise State’s Executive MBA program. Flinn explained that this partnership was “helpful in thinking through what needed to be done to increase capacity and scale out operations.” 

The Executive MBA team predicts that call volume to Idaho’s hotline will triple by the end of 2022. 

Since going live in mid-July, 988 has already led to a “noticeable uptick” in calls to Idaho’s hotline, according to Flinn. The hotline has been preparing for this expected traffic increase for over a year by expanding and increasing the availability of crisis responders. 

The Idaho Crisis and Suicide Hotline has more than doubled its staff since last July. Call volume to the hotline, however, is expected to continually increase for many months as 988 gains traction, meaning the hotline is still in search of additional crisis responders to meet this growing demand.

Boise State students and faculty are encouraged to utilize 988 if ever in a crisis situation. As calls continue to increase, the hotline aims to expand to keep up with the growing demand for mental health resources in Idaho.

Photo courtesy of WCIV

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