Introducing 988: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
By Governor Pete Ricketts
July 12, 2022
Governor’s official photo here.
In Nebraska, we’ve endured more than our fair share of adversity over the past 3+ years. The floods of March 2019 were the most widespread natural disaster in state history. Then, the coronavirus struck our state in March 2020 and continued upending lives throughout 2021. This spring, our state experienced the worst wildfires of the past decade. Meanwhile, families are dealing with the financial pressures of the highest inflation in 40+ years.
Our communities have navigated these successive disasters with inspiring strength, showing the grit and resilience Nebraskans are known for. As a result, we’re in great shape as a state. However, these challenges have taken a toll on the mental health of many of our families, friends, and neighbors. It’s imperative that we look after the mental well-being of our loved ones and provide immediate help to those who need it.
On July 16th, Nebraska is rolling out the new 988 suicide prevention lifeline. It’s patterned after 911 and gives callers a simple, easy-to-remember number to dial for assistance during a mental health crisis.
While it can be hard to start conversations about mental health, talking about mental illness can be lifesaving. It is never too early to seek assistance for mental health concerns—either for yourself or someone you love. Use your eyes, ears, and heart to be alert for signs of mental distress. These can include:
- Expressions of hopelessness about the future
- Display of severe or overwhelming emotional pain
- Marked changes in behavior, such as:
- Isolation or withdrawal from social connections
- Changes in sleep patterns (increased or decreased)
- Anger or hostility that seems out of context or uncharacteristic
- Increased agitation or irritability
If you suspect someone may be thinking about ending his/her life, it’s okay to ask them about it directly. Starting July 16th, you can also dial 988 if you’re concerned about a loved one who may need crisis support.
Nebraskans calling in to 988 will be in excellent hands. Almost all the calls made to 988 will be answered by Nebraskans working at Boys Town, our state partner in suicide prevention. The Boys Town National Hotline has provided crisis hotline services since 1989 and has been the Nebraska provider for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline since 2005. In 2021, Boys Town handled 8,777 calls from Nebraskans. Their team de-escalated over 97% of callers to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline without requiring external emergency intervention.
The new lifeline number, 988, provides a direct connection to trained, compassionate counselors for anyone experiencing mental distress or thoughts of suicide. Support is available 24/7, and all calls are free and confidential.
Moving to 988 does not mean the previous Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) will go away. After July 16, 2022, both numbers will get callers to the same services.
Nebraska has highly trained, mobile crisis response teams working around the clock throughout the state. These teams will cooperate closely with 988 counselors to follow up on calls made to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The mobile crisis teams include clinicians who can conduct home visits or make telehealth connections to assist Nebraskans.
The State has been proactive in ensuring that Nebraskans have access to behavioral health resources. U.S. News and World Report ranks Nebraska fourth in the nation for mental health. And we have a lower suicide rate than any surrounding state. While these stats are encouraging, we know there’s much more we can do.
The availability of 988 is a great addition to the variety of resources we offer at the state for those dealing with mental health issues. We continue to partner with nonprofits, behavioral healthcare providers, and schools to help prevent suicides. Here are some of our primary efforts:
- Earlier this year, the State invested $40 million of ARPA funds to grow our behavioral healthcare capacity. Additionally, the Legislature allocated $60 million for a rural health complex at UNK, which will help expand education for rural healthcare providers. Senators also allocated $5 million for a loan repayment program for individuals who pursue careers as nurses or behavioral health professionals.
- On June 6th, we launched the Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families.
- The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) was awarded a five-year federal grant in 2018 to build a behavioral health “system of care” to support those battling mental illness in a less restrictive setting. Since its launch, there have been over 1,800 youth crisis response encounters. Of those encounters, 75% successfully resolved the immediate crisis and supported youth and their families in the community without the need to refer them to inpatient care.
- DHHS has collaborated with the Nebraska Department of Education, schools, educational service units, and localized systems of care to create the Behavioral Health Resources for Schools guide. It serves as a mental health toolkit that identifies local protocols for accessing behavioral health services.
- Nearly 30,000 Nebraskans have been trained on Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR), a suicide prevention program.
- The State provided Mental Health First Aid training to 943 people last fiscal year. Trainees are equipped with skills to respond to the signs of mental illness and substance use.
- DHHS, in partnership with Boys Town, operates the 24-hour Nebraska Family Helpline (888-866-8660). Since launching in 2010, the Helpline has received more than 68,300 calls.
As 988 takes effect, we’re well positioned to help Nebraskans in their time of need. Thank you to DHHS, Boys Town, and the many counselors and providers who’ve worked together to make the launch of the lifeline a success.
If you have questions about the State of Nebraska’s work to provide access to mental healthcare, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402-471-2244. If you’d like to assist us in publicizing 988, we’ve created a toolkit that can be downloaded at dhhs.ne.gov/Pages/988.aspx. Together, let’s check in on the mental health of our loved ones, and spread the word about the new 988 service.