988 crisis lifeline launched
Three-digit number for suicide prevention
By Robert Cloud
A new national three-digit number offers free and confidential support for people experiencing a suicidal or mental health crisis.
In Wisconsin, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline will connect callers with a crisis counselor trained to listen and support people through their distress with a focus on de-escalation and coping skills.
All 988 calls in the state will go to the Wisconsin Lifeline support center in Green Bay, which is operated by Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin.
People may connect to Wisconsin Lifeline either by calling or texting 988 or by chats via 988lifeline.org. Counselors are available 24/7.
An automated response will first ask callers if they speak Spanish or if they are a veteran. Their call will be directed to a counselor who can help them.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, “counselors are trained to reduce stress, provide emotional support and connect people with local resources.”
The counselor will recommend local resources for counseling or support.
Callers at immanent risk of harming themselves or others will receive a welfare check from law enforcement or an emergency medical response.
Only about 2% of calls to 988 are expected to need emergency response. Most will receive counseling during the call, followed by referrals to local support services.
The previous suicide prevention number, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), will continue to operate indefinitely.
NAMI Fox Valley support groups
Among the area organizations that 988 counselors may recommend is the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Fox Valley.
Vivian Flanagan with NAMI said her organization can “offer support to people that are not in immediate crisis.”
She said NAMI provides support groups where people can talk with someone before they get to a crisis.
“Our support groups are online and even our education classes are online,” Flanagan said. “Especially in rural areas, people don’t want to drive all the way to Appleton if they can go to a support group over Zoom.”
NAMI staff member Vicki Rivera stressed that NAMI does not offer professional counseling, but peer support.
“There’s something therapeutic about being able to share with someone,” she said.
In addition to support groups, NAMI Fox Valley offers classes that tach about mental illness and the different types of therapies.
NAMI is a nonprofit that offers its support groups and classes at no charge.
Waupaca County Suicide Prevention
Formed in December 2011, the Waupaca County Suicide Prevention Coalition includes pastors, counselors, representatives from school districts and the Waupaca County Department of Health and Human Services.
The group has been organizing educational programs in the fall and awareness walks in the spring for a decade.
“We will have five billboards throughout Waupaca County advertising the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline,” said Mary Jo Tomaras with the Waupaca County Suicide Prevention Coalition. “The coalition has also promoted the 988 number on its Facebook page and website.”
Tomaras said the coalition discussed the new 988 number at its spring walk and plans to discuss it more at the fall program.