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A Look at the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline a Year Later

It’s a three-digit number: 988. It’s a nationwide number to call for those in crisis, and a local organization that answers the call says it’s seeing a high volume of calls, more than the original suicide lifeline number.

The federal government launched 988 in July of 2022. Solari, a Tempe organization, is one of two crisis call centers in Arizona answering those calls, the other is in Tucson.

Justin Chase, the President and CEO of Solari, said in its first year since the 988 number went live, it’s received more than 60,000 calls.

“We’ve seen a 40% increase in call volume to 988 than the 10-digit number that was used before last July,” Chase said.

That’s on par with what they estimated. The number was launched in an effort to make it easier for people to access help when they’re in need.

Chase says a majority of people calling them are doing so for the first time. 

When someone does call, he says those on the other end of the line make sure the person in crisis is in a safe situation. Then they work to figure out how to help that person. In some instances, they will call a crisis team to go and help the person or help them find other resources in the community.

Chase said the top calls they receive are self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

More than 80% of calls that come into the 988 lines, Solari’s staff can stabilize and help resolve without any additional support. Chase said about 1% are in need of police engagement.

“We have trained clinicians that are taking those calls and working with an individual. They can remain anonymous if they wish. They don’t have to disclose their location,” Chase said. “Very rarely are we going to be engaging first responders unless there’s a critical public safety or health need that we can’t help with.”

Eric Lee, the director of the contact center operation and clinical services for Solari, said he’s answered those calls before. He tells ABC15 that it’s a challenging job, but rewarding at times when they can help the person on the other line.

“It’s amazing and a little bit shocking to see where we were a few years ago compared to now. The reach that we have, not only to Arizona but nationwide has really been humbling to see. It’s great to know that we have that sort of impact on our community,” Lee said.

The 988 number is 24/7 and is able to accommodate those who speak English and Spanish. There are also specialized supports for veterans, the LGBTQ community and people hard of hearing.

People in crisis can also text or chat with the number, which Chase said they are seeing an exponential rise in texters.

“We’re still seeing calls are the number one way people are accessing our services, but text is growing rapidly,” Chase said. “We’ve seen a 1,400% increase in texting volume nationwide when it comes to accessing 988. It tends to be individuals, our youth, the young adult population preferring to interact by text resources.”

Chase said they are fully staffed with 200 people taking the calls at their center. While some centers across the nation are struggling to keep up with the volume, Solari also serves as a backup for centers in other states.

The staff goes through weeks of training to prepare for the calls. Lee said the staff all have degrees or equivalent experience in the field.

While it may be difficult for those who are going through a crisis, both Lee and Chase emphasize that help is out there, and there are people who care.

“When you’re at that point, you feel like you have nowhere to turn, we are here,” Lee said.