BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — In 2020, someone in the United States died by suicide every 11 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide is a leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 34. In addition, between April 2020 and April 2021, more than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses.
In an effort to start confronting the mental health crisis facing the country and Kern County, a new suicide and crisis call center will soon be opening up in Bakersfield, making Kern one of two California counties to provide locally-based crisis services to residents as mental health needs increase.
Kern County Behavioral Health Director Stacy Kuwahara explains the purpose of the call center.
“A place to call for resources and help, and also a place to call when you are really in a mental health crisis and you need immediate help, you need somebody to talk to, or you need to know where to got o get that immediate support,” said Kuwahara.
That immediate support for Kern County residents will soon be coming from the call center in Bakersfield.
Kuwahara says that since the covid pandemic started early in 2020, county behavioral health services have seen more people in crisis situations.
“We know that mental health need sin the community are absolutely increasing so much,” said Kuwahara. “It’s really hard to meet the demand.”
The call center, which is expected to be up and running within a few weeks, will not only provide services for mental health, but also substance use disorder, as well as any other kind of emotional or psychological distress.
“I think that’s the beauty of us operating in this call center is that we are able to make those transitions very smoothly, very quickly, and then follow up to make sure that they actually happened,” said Kuwahara.
Kuwahara preaches that there is one common goal the call center will have when assisting people in need.
“Be there when somebody is going through a crisis and needs somebody to talk to,” said Kuwahara. “That might mean for somebody just a very bad day and they feel very alone and they need to reach out to somebody, or it might mean sending somebody out to make sure that they are okay and that they are safe.”
While the new call center isn’t going to be fully operating for another few weeks, the staff is still taking calls at their current facility. Anyone who is having a crisis, experiencing thoughts of suicide, is having struggles with substance use, or is just having, as Kuwahara said, a very bad day, they can still call 988 right now and speak with someone immediately.
“They are still answering all calls. No disruptions in service,” said Kuwahara. “We are going to really stage it out so that there is no disruptions for the callers at any point in time.”