988 and 911 in Corvallis: Breaking down the hotlines

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By Jess Hume-Pantuso, OMN Photographer

A photo illustrating the availability of a new mental health resource, the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, taken on August 4, 2022 in Corvallis, Ore. According to their website The Suicide and Crisis Lifeline “offers 24/7 call, text and chat access to trained crisis counselors who can help people experiencing suicidal, substance use, and/or mental health crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress.”

Tarsa Weikert, Beaver's Digest Contributor

On July 29, a new three-digit 988 Suicide and Crisis Hotline was officially designated the National Crisis line in America. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the new number is the first step towards a transformed crisis care system in the United States since it’s a shorter, more memorable number for people to turn to during a time of crisis.

It’s been active for more than a month now. Has the creation of the 988 line impacted 911 calls in Corvallis?

Joel Goodwin, captain with the Corvallis Police Department and 911 director of Corvallis Regional Communications Center, has been with CPD for the last 24 years. CRCC is the primary public safety answering point for 911 calls in Benton County.

“During the day we may receive more calls related to traffic crashes, where at night we may receive more calls related to assaults,” Goodwin said. “Medical emergencies can generate 911 calls throughout the day.”

Goodwin receives calls from mental health situations to traffic incidents. Calls to 911 vary depending on what is happening in the community.

Although CRCC does not anticipate a change in their call volume with the new release of the 988 hotline, there is a difference in qualification between the individuals answering calls behind these numbers.

“Our telecommunicators are fully trained and state-certified to answer emergency calls for our community and then dispatch the appropriate law enforcement, fire, medical or other resources to address those emergencies,” Goodwin said. “Staff answering 988 calls are crisis counselors that may include paid staff, interns and/or volunteers.”

The National Suicide and Prevention lifeline is staffed 24/7/365 to provide free confidential crisis support. Staff connect callers with local mental health resources rather than connecting them with the police.

“If someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, 98-8 is a wonderful resource,” Goodwin said.

When there are large events happening in Corvallis, Goodwin said CRCC sees an increase in calls.

“Crisis comes in many forms; it can range from someone upset about a parking issue to someone who just experienced the loss of a loved one, and of course includes someone suffering from mental illness,” Goodwin said. 

CRCC categorizes calls based on the specific circumstance individuals are facing so appropriate sources can be recommended.

“ For perspective, CRCC takes about 120,000 total phone calls per year—roughly 25,000 of those are 911 calls,” Goodwin said.

Though if the situation has escalated to an emergency 9-1-1 would be more appropriate to call Goodwin said.

Marilyn Marker, chair for National Alliance on Mental Illness Mid-Valley Advisory Committee, said she recognizes the importance of having a suicide crisis hotline.

“The 988 hotline has the advantage of a short three-digit crisis line number that is easy to remember, similar to the 911 emergency number, rather than a cumbersome 10-digit number,” Marker said.

Although NAMI is not directly involved with the new hotline, Marker said they have been aware of its anticipated rollout. According to Marker, NAMI is currently promoting the hotline and listing it on their local affiliate websites and social media platforms.

“Suicide hotline services are important and will hopefully save lives,” Marker said. “In the past 10 years there has been an alarming rise in suicide rates among children and teens.”

 According to Marker, NAMI has received a 65% increase in HelpLine calls between March 1 to April 30 compared to last year. Marker is aware that other crisis lines have experienced a similar increase.

“As a society we have a long way to go to increase access to mental health care but understanding the risks and seeking solutions is important work that NAMI promotes and works tirelessly for,” Marker said.

 NAMI Oregon website has various other crisis support lines that individuals can call when experiencing distress. Many of the helplines are staffed 24/7.

According to the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death for children ages 10-14 and 25-34. Suicide is one of the top nine leading causes of death for people ages 10-64, which is equivalent to about one death every 11 minutes.

NAMI also offers additional free resource referrals, support groups and classes that are free to individuals and their loved ones experiencing mental health crises. Marker states the goal of having additional resources is to connect callers to the appropriate local services and support.

 “However, currently there are many communities that do not have trained mobile crisis teams or simply lack the funding to provide them at this time,” Marker said.