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Iowa 988 operators seeing uptick in calls since mid-July lifeline launch

Organizations involved in the 988 rollout share the first month's data on the number of calls and texts they answered from people in need.

IOWA, USA — Calls and texts from Iowans seeking help for suicidal thoughts or crisis have significantly grown since the middle of July.

That's when the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline launched 988. Switching from a 10-digit telephone number to call, to a three-digit telephone number.

Emily Bloome, is the CEO of Foundation 2 Crisis Services, one of two organizations that have been helping Iowa answer suicide prevention calls for years before it was 988. The other is CommUnity Crisis Services.

"If we took the average calls per month prior to the roll-out of 988, in the last 30 days we've seen about a 55 percent increase over that monthly average," Bloome said.

Before the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline switched to 988, the average number of calls Foundation 2 Crisis services received between January to July was 723 per month. 

Once the switch happened, from July 16 to the end of the month, they received 1,121 calls. As of Aug. 25, they had received 1,722 calls. 

Local 5 reached out to the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services to get the total number of calls 988 received from Iowans in July. 

Sarah Ekstrand, the public information officer for that department, said the total number of calls received in July was 1,872. That includes the number of calls Foundation 2 Crisis Services and CommUnity Crisis Services combined. 

Ekstrand also noted that 288 texts were answered by the end of July. 

Bloome said texts are answered by people at CommUnity.

"988 just helps with ease of access and we are seeing call volume increasing and we're doing our best to staff those," Bloome said. "I'm really proud of our team for getting 81 percent of those calls prior to those going out of state."

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Bethany Kohoutek, director of marketing and communications at NAMI Iowa, said her organization had been urging for the national suicide and crisis number to be shortened to just three numbers for years. 

She noted she's happy it finally happened, but most importantly she likes how with the switch, agencies that handle the calls or texts in Iowa are making sure to people who answer those in distress, know what they're doing. 

"You're connected to a live, trained counselor who's not just a dispatcher," Kohoutek said. "When someone is in a mental health crisis, it's really critical they are able to connect with someone that has skills and the training to de-escalate the situation or to call in the appropriate resources." 

Bloome and Kohoutek are both excited about the growth of 988 in Iowa, because it means more people are reaching out to get help before things are too late.

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