How to get help: Utah crisis hotline responds to record number of calls in 2020-2021
Utah’s suicide crisis hotline has had the highest annual call volume in the resource’s history, according to an annual report released this week by the Huntsman Mental Health Institute.
The number of Utahns who called the state’s suicide crisis hotline jumped 32%, bringing the total number of calls to 92,532 for the fiscal period ending June 2021, the report reported. ‘institute.
The voluminous call log represents advances in organizational capacity for prevention efforts, even as it simultaneously serves to underscore the formidable mental health landscape in a state whose persistently high suicide rates have been slow to register with of the general public.
“Seeing an increase in calls to our suicide prevention hotline is always a double edged sword. It shows us that many people in our community are struggling, but it’s also good to see people calling, accessing services and asking for help,” said Rachel Lucynski, operations manager for the team. Community Crisis Response from the Huntsman Mental Health Institute.
The report comes at a time when experts say the country’s mental health crisis is worsening, captured most starkly in startling suicide statistics and recently boosted in public awareness by a string of deaths. high profile, including celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and fashion entrepreneur Kate Bêche.
In Utah, the data paints a grim picture – with suicide the leading cause of death among Utahns aged 10 to 24 and the second leading cause among those aged 45 to 60. Hence the state’s bleak ranking as the sixth highest age-adjusted suicide rate in the nation, according to the Utah Department of Health.
Additionally, the numbers may underestimate the scale of the problem, as far more are hospitalized or treated in emergency rooms for suicide attempts than fatally injured. In 2019, for example, 70 Utahns were treated daily for self-inflicted injuries, the department’s health indicators report shows.
In response to disturbing trends, the Community Crisis Response Team has created what it says are innovative life-saving services to deal with crises of varying severity and channel Utahns with mental health issues to resources to help prevent further harm.
On the front line are the team’s call answerers, many of whom are volunteers, who have been trained to help people in crisis by building relationships and exploring solutions together. They may ask how a caller resolved a previous crisis or who in their life might be able to help.
“Our crisis teams are really good at listening to callers’ concerns, validating those concerns, being solution-focused and empathetic. This helps keep people safe,” said program manager Lucynski. cases, we are able to handle phone calls People feel better at the end of that phone call and they have a safety plan in place.
The report showed that 4% of callers were directed to hospital emergency departments and 2% of calls involved imminent risk situations that required law enforcement to carry out safety and welfare checks . For 8% of callers, the center has dispatched a mobile outreach crisis team made up of two response officers who arrive in unmarked cars to meet people at imminent risk in person. Each team includes a master’s level mental health counselor and a certified peer support specialist.
“It’s important to have someone there with lived experience with mental health issues or substance use disorders because they can share that experience, which provides people with empathy and support” , said Lucynski. “It helps to make the person feel safe, valued, understood, heard. Sometimes peer support specialists share their own experiences and say, “I know what it’s like to be in your shoes. There is hope and ways to help you get through this because there are truly precious things to live for.
Outreach mobile teams defuse and assess suicide risks before coming up with safety plans that Lucynski says resolve 80% of crises on the spot. Crisis workers have stepped in to save 1,353 Utahns ‘at imminent risk of suicide’ and believe the efforts are helping to correct concerning trends, based on correlated data from medical examiners and the state’s death surveillance report .
“We are seeing a flattening of suicide rates, and in some demographic groups we are even seeing a decrease in rates. It is always difficult to determine correlation versus causation, but our partners tell us that these services are very effective,” said Lucynski, whose hypotheses are supported by national studies of the effectiveness of helplines. in the event of a crisis.
Growing recognition of the influence of crisis work has spurred action at the national level. The Federal Communications Commission has passed new rules to simplify the prevention process by instituting an easy-to-recall national three-digit phone number for suicide hotlines. The number is 988. Under new FCC rules, telecommunications carriers and telephone service providers will direct all 988 calls to the existing National Lifeline for Suicide Prevention beginning July 16, 2022.
The new phone number will increase the accessibility of preventive services while signaling greater social engagement with an issue that mental health advocates say is overdue. Lucynski predicts the change will encourage more people to use the resource at a time when demand shows no signs of slowing down.
“Right now, we’re seeing an 11% to 15% increase in calls each month. We broke the record last year, but we’re already on our way to breaking it again this year,” said Lucynski, who attributes some of the increase in volume to situational stress associated with the coronavirus pandemic.
For the Utah Community Crisis Response Team, the job isn’t just about saving lives, it’s also about saving money. Intervention efforts help people avoid costly and emotionally distressing visits to emergency departments or long-term hospitalization. It also helps minimize overall use of state law enforcement and emergency medical services by catching problems before they escalate.
For crisis workers, mental health is a global problem where lasting and comprehensive solutions require systematic reform. For example, mental health faces stigma that makes it difficult for people to seek help when they are struggling.
“One of the challenges for people getting help is stigma and taboo. You hear terms like, ‘You’re crazy. You’re bipolar. You’re psychopathic.’ But people don’t understand that these are real diseases and conditions,” Lucynski said.
Yet even those who seek help face barriers due to the design of health care delivery systems with inflexible co-payments and negligible reimbursements that make critical psychological care prohibitively expensive for large swaths of those in need, as seen in Utah’s mental health system, according to a 2019 report from the Gardner Policy Institute.
The Community Crisis Response Program seeks to address this unmet need by providing resources beyond the crisis call line. It also offers SafeUT, an app designed to provide professional help for students, parents, and educators. This is in addition to a “warm phone line” and transitional aftercare services that provide emotional support for people going through mental health challenges.
“Suicide is preventable and even one loss of life in our state is too many,” Lucynsky said. “There is a lot of great progress to be made, and still a lot of work to be done.”