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July 16 marks the one year anniversary of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: How it has impacted valley residents

This weekend marks the one year anniversary since the country transitioned from the ten-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to the three digit 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

Since launching in July of last year, 988 has helped Riverside County Residents, including callers from the Coachella Valley.

Dr. Jenn Carson, Crisis Helpline Supervisor with the Inland Southern California Crisis and Suicide Helpline says, "An estimated 15 thousand calls to 988 were actually from Riverside County."

She adds that about 900 calls were transferred to the Inland Southern California Crisis Helpline last year by one of the two hundred 988 call centers from across the country.

Out of those 900 calls, most of them required an immediate crisis response.

When a person calls or texts 988, they have access to around the clock mental health, substance use, or suicidal crisis care. Counselors can offer a listening ear and share resources.

Since 988's launch last July, the 12 crisis centers across California have responded to more than 280 thousands calls, chats and texts.

"If you're in need of emotional support, or you're in a mental health crisis, or experiencing suicidal thoughts, that's when you can call 988," says Dr. Carson.

While thousands of our neighbors have been helped, there are still challenges that can be improved.

"There's a misconception that individuals who call 988 are in the midst of an emergency. But in reality, only 2 percent of callers to 988 need emergency services. The callers are often experiencing stress, anxiety, isolation, or a major situational crisis like job loss. Most need a caring listener or a link to local support," adds Dr. Carson.

She says local support is a priority.

It's important to know when you dial 988 in the Coachella Valley, you're going to be connected to a call center based on your area code.

If you have a local area code, you'll be connected to Optum in San Diego or Didi Hirsch's call center in Los Angeles, that takes the majority of calls in Southern California.

If you have an out of state area code, like a number from Austin, Texas, you'll most likely be calling Integral Care.

However, if you need immediate crisis care, you'll then be transferred to the Inland Southern California Crisis Helpline to connect you with a facility or local experts who can help you.

"And so it would take quite a while for that caller to actually come back to us here at Riverside County to connect them to a crisis mobile dispatch," says Dr. Carson.

Because of the current routing process, the best way for valley residents to get immediate in person crisis care is by calling the Inland Southern California Crisis Helpline at 951-686-HELP.

Dr. Carson hopes in the future calls can be rerouted by location instead of area code.

"We have 12 million tourists that visit Palm Springs, they can currently access 911 emergency services. But if they were to have a crisis and call 988, they're going to be bounced to their home instead of local support," adds Dr. Carson.

As 988 enters its second year, Dr. Carson hopes the Inland Southern California Crisis Helpline can join the states' 988 crisis call center network.

In the last year, her call center has response to 5 thousand people needing suicide prevention services. They hope to quadruple that capacity moving forward.

Bill SB 138 was recently introduced to help provide greater funding to 211 centers across the state.

This bill encourages a partnership between 211 and 988 in hopes of strengthening crisis care response.

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Bianca Ventura

Bianca Ventura joined KESQ News Channel 3 as a reporter in February 2022.


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