988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline sees increased use in rural Georgia communities
VALDOSTA, Ga. (WALB) - Help is only three numbers away. And for the past couple of months, several Georgians going through hard times have learned just that.
Dialing 988 has helped hundreds of thousands of people when having thoughts about suicide or those experiencing a mental health crisis. The use of the Crisis Lifeline has increased by 12% since receiving a new number.
In 2022, the Crisis Lifeline number changed from 11 digits, 1-800-273-8255, to three digits, so more people would use it. They were right.
“988 has been a great rollout for an easy number that people can know when they’re in a crisis themselves, or know somebody that is really on the ledge,” Michael Smith, CEO of Greater Valdosta United Way, said. “Greater Valdosta United Way is really focused on our mental health initiative of creating that awareness. Because having the number is one thing, but then making sure people know it and can use it is key.”
Previously, the Crisis Lifeline improved the average speed of answering calls from three minutes to 30 seconds. Now, experts say their average speed is 10 seconds or less.
“By more people calling 988, there’s tracking of that number to see how many people are in crisis, and the issues that are causing them stresses,” Smith said. “Hopefully, community leaders and politicians can make those decisions and medical professionals to hopefully alleviate some of that stress and trauma.”
The Crisis Lifeline is there for people to know they are not alone.
“There are a lot of people that struggle with mental health. It’s not as uncommon as we think it is. Some people are not so open and vocal about it, so definitely having the crisis like would give them a way,” Ariel Forston, a mental health advocate, said.
The majority of the top 20 counties in Georgia that reached out to the 988-Crisis Lifeline from October 2022 to December 2022 were rural counties in the southern part of the state.
“Across South Georgia, therapist, psychiatrist, professional mental health experts are hard to find. Many counties don’t even have one office in their community,” Smith said. “988 has been a great rollout for an easy number that people can know.”
“I would definitely say there is a need for more mental health resources here in the rural areas,” Fortson said.
Research shows that over 60% of Americans live in designated mental health provider shortage areas. The Greater Valdosta United Way is spreading awareness for more access to mental health resources through advertising on two radio stations and six billboards spread across four counties.
“Calling a therapist and then having to wait six months to get in for an appointment is too little too late for a lot of people,” Smith said. “Call that number. If you need help, or if you know someone that is in crisis and needs help and they can point you in the right direction for continued help.”
Again, if you or someone you know are struggling with mental health, call 988 for help.
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