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New 9-8-8 crisis hotline changing lives as calls increase

Posted at 5:34 PM, Aug 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-02 21:31:39-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — There’s now an easier way to call for help if you are in a crisis and that new hotline number has been officially receiving calls for about two weeks. And in just those two weeks calls are increasing.

It is three simple numbers that can change lives: 9-8-8. And in Kern County, Behavioral Health and Recovery Services have one of the 13 call centers in California that are changing lives.

With a 10-digit suicide and crisis lifeline, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration saw more than 1.726 million calls in 2018, 1.731 in 2019, and 1.832 in 2020. With the new 9-8-8 number, they expect to see a 25-percent increase in call volume.

Tonya Mann, the crisis services administrator with KBHRS, says they are already seeing an increase locally but expect more.

“If you look at our numbers, a 15 percent call increase rounds out to about 450 calls a month of an increase. When we get to that 30 percent, we’ll be looking at about 900 calls increased.”

“Think about when someone is in an emergency, that really long phone number it's hard to remember, that’s why we have simple numbers like 911, so 988 is that counterpart," continued Mann. "It's simple to remember. It's easy. It's accessible and that’s what makes it so great for our community.”

But with the influx of calls recovery services says having people to answer the calls can be a challenge.

“We do what we can with our staffing. We could always use more, so would it be a struggle sure, but we would always make it work,” said Mann.

Fortunately, more money is on the way to ensure the lifeline can continue saving as many lives as possible.

Says Mann, “The funding that was approved by the board through our partnership with [Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services] is specifically allocated to our hotline, and it's going to go to increase our staffing for the hotline and also to improve our infrastructure and also some additional training.”

And no matter how many people there are to answer the calls behavioral health says someone will be there on the other end to assist residents when they need it most.

“Every call that comes into our hotline is a success, that means that someone is trusting us and is brave enough to reach out and get some help in their time of need and for us," continued Mann. "That’s a win, that’s such an honor to be able to do that,”

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2020 the U.S. had one death by suicide every 11 minutes. For people ages 10 to 32 suicide is the leading cause of death and from April 2020 through April 2021 over 100,000 people died from drug overdoses.

That’s why officials believe there is an overwhelming need for this simple hotline number. And while they are doing what they can to answer the calls recovery services says the new number is already saving lives.

It's also important to note that you can call 9-8-8 on behalf of a loved one you think may be in crisis and need support. The Kern County Crisis hotline number 1-800-991-5272 is still the same and is still open 24/7.