988 mental health helpline’s first-year impact soars to 1,000 percent in Virginia

Published: Jul. 18, 2023 at 6:29 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 18, 2023 at 6:34 PM EDT
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SHENANDOAH VALLEY, Va. (WHSV) - 988 gives individual access to a crisis response option separate from calling 911. Mental health professionals, like those working at the Augusta Resources for Resilience, Opportunity, and Wellness (ARROW) project, have seen a new focus around mental health since 2020.

“It was our ability to say we’re here and we see you and we want to support you. Since 2020, professionals in our field have seen increased call to action a call to prioritization of mental health,” ARROW Project Executive Director Sabrina Burress said.

The ARROW Project increases access to mental health services in the SAW Region of Virginia through innovative partnerships, programming, and professional development opportunities. Professionals in this outlet also work within the counseling relationship to help clients understand the process of seeking crisis support, what to expect, and who/what numbers to call in the event of an active crisis situation. Because of these things they receive a very low percentage, less than 10% of active crisis calls to the intake line, or to clinicians directly.

988 has gotten calls from people dealing with anxiety surrounding racial unrest, and targeting of the LGBTQ+ communities. Liz Signorelli Moore represents 988 in the Shenandoah Valley as the Region 1 Call Center Director, who has seen call volume for mental health support soar.

“Over 5 million people reached out to 988 through calls, texts, and chat. Texting went over 1,000 percent,” Signorelli Moore said.

Major events such as the pandemic required them to constantly access the mental health landscape of community members. The professionals have seen youth impacted by the shift in school format, older adults affected by increased isolation, and individuals from other vulnerable populations impacted by jobs loss, housing and food insecurity, and other complex traumatic results of COVID-19.

According to Mental Health of Augusta, the 988 mental health hotline has been a significant step in the right direction toward assisting those in need. They believe the state of Virginia has been a leader in developing plans to fund crisis services long-term.

MHA Director Bruce Blair expressed that the state has done a great job of increasing answer rates to 92.3 percent and decreasing wait times to about 20 seconds.

“At Mental Health America of Augusta we have seen an increase in our online screenings and in conjunction with the data from the 988 hotline, it means more people are reaching out for help. The 988 hotline is not just for those who are suicidal, but can provide confidential support from trained individuals for people in distress, prevention, and crisis. The more support we have in our community, the better as individuals come forward to seek assistance for their mental health needs,” Blair said, in a written statement.

Mental health organizations feel the uptick in 988 calls reflects how valued they are as a need.

“They’re reaching out to us they’re reaching out 988 they’re reaching out to other providers to get the help that they need,” Burress said.

988 advocates say the mental health helpline’s growth is a sign of hope, showing that people are interested in getting help if they just know where to find it.