988 operators optimistic as new suicide-prevention hotline takes effect

ByMaggie Green and Samantha Kummerer WTVD logo
Monday, August 1, 2022
988 operators optimistic as new suicide-prevention hotline in effect
On average, experts say it takes 45 seconds for a person in crisis to be connected with a counselor at the suicide lifeline.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Every second counts for a person in need.

On average, experts say it takes 45 seconds for a person in crisis to be connected with a counselor at the suicide lifeline.

"We're constantly working to improve that," said Matthew Taylor, the director of development for the 988 Suicide Crisis Lifeline. "There can be periods of time where maybe, for example, there's a strong surge in volume that can, you know, push that wait time up. There are also periods where the wait time can go down."

There are more than 200 local call centers nationwide that serve the 988 Suicide Crisis Lifeline, operated by Vibrant Health Services. Taylor said the lifeline aims to answer calls in-state so people can get resources specific to their communities.

"The lifeline believes that people who are in crisis deserve the most localized response possible when at all possible," he said.

In North Carolina, calls are routed to the REAL Crisis Center in Greenville. North Carolina lifeline workers had already been among the best in the nation before the switch to 988 earlier this month.

"North Carolina does have a very strong lifeline member center and we're incredibly proud and thankful for their hard work," Taylor said."

By June 30 this year, North Carolinians made 27,916 calls to the lifeline, 24,375 of which were answered in-state. Only 8% of callers hung up before they reached a counselor. Taylor said callers hang up before reaching a provider for a number of reasons.

"Maybe something has interrupted them, maybe they're no longer in a private setting and so they would disconnect, or for some people, they may actually just be curious about what the 988 number is and kind of testing it out and then when they realize they're being transferred to somebody locally, they may hang up," Taylor said. "But of course, the vast majority of people do want to be connected to a counselor and we're here to facilitate that. But the real question is, will the person stay on the line as we route their call to the first center of choice?"

Taylor said it's important to be patient whether a person calls, texts or sends a chat message to the Lifeline, as different factors can impact wait times.

"You should reach out to us through whatever form of communication you're most comfortable with," Taylor said. "Most importantly, reach out."

He hopes that as more call centers come online throughout the year, the wait time to speak to a counselor will decrease.

"All of us at some point in our life will probably experience a mental health crisis," Taylor said. "Many of us may even have thoughts of suicide from time to time. These are normal parts of being a human being, and from my standpoint, if I can be a part of an effort that helps normalize help-seeking, helps people in distress, and it helps just push the well belong of our society forward, I'm very thankful for that opportunity."