Kentucky launches 988 suicide and crisis lifeline

Kentucky launched a new, easy-to-remember mental health crisis hotline. The 988 suicide and crisis lifeline is part of a nationwide departure from the 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL). The 988 lifeline connects Kentuckians facing a risk of suicide, mental health distress, or an addiction crisis with trained counselors via phone, text message, or chat.

A $1.16 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helped fund the new service. Kentucky’s upcoming state budget includes $19.6 million over two years to support increased capacity and infrastructure for 988. The money will also fund mobile crisis services.

“The implementation of this new number comes during a time when Kentuckians are burdened with emotional strains and stressors in our communities,” said Eric Friedlander, secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. “The 988 lifeline helps us to build stronger, more resilient communities, and it will help ensure adequate access for all to mental health care, including residents of all ages living in all communities, as well as the underserved.”

Friedlander said the Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities (DBHDID) initiated work in the 2000s that brought community mental health centers online with the NSPL. Kentucky has 13 sites accredited as NSPL call centers. Kentucky 988 Program Administrator Angela Roberts said the 13 centers provide primary coverage for all 120 counties and backup coverage for 80% of those areas.

Kentucky centers have received an average of 1,935 calls per month to the 10-digit lifeline in the past three months. Officials expect the call volume to quadruple by the end of June 2023, and they anticipate calls will increase due to the new, easier-to-use number. Kentucky’s Mental Health Block Grant will help fund the increase in calls. Vibrant Emotional Health, the nonprofit administrator of the NSPL, awarded $340,000 in grant funding to assist Kentucky with planning and logistics for the 988 transition. The 988 number does not replace the 10-digit NSPL number, 800-273-8255. Either number will now connect callers to the same services.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for youth and young adults in the commonwealth. The Kentucky Youth Risk Behavior Survey, released in September 2021, reported that 15% of Kentucky high school students seriously considered suicide during the previous year. In addition, 17.4% of middle school students seriously considered taking their own life.

“Our goal is to get all Kentuckians – especially our youth – connected with the mental health services they need,” DBHDID Commissioner Wendy Morris said. “When someone contacts 988, they will reach a compassionate, highly trained counselor who can help address their issue in the least intrusive way possible.”

The Kentucky League of Cities Board of Directors continues to name substance abuse, including treatment and recovery, a top legislative priority for cities.

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