988 Helpline: Since July 2022, 34,303 calls, texts and chats have been answered

In May, the Louisiana Department of Health launched the 988 Dashboard which provides regularly updated information on the needs that are reported to the 988 Helpline.

988 was reserved as the national suicide and crisis three digit code in 2020 by the Federal Communication Committee to connect those in crisis to trained crisis counselors. These counselors then provide suicide and crisis intervention for callers in need, and connects them to resources as needed.

Dr. Robyn Thomas, suicide prevention coordinator, LDH, said the counselors are trained to empathize with the callers and understand how both internal and external siutation are directly affecting the caller.

“Reaching out to a trained crisis counselor, those individuals will be able to talk to someone about what they’re experiencing at that moment that might be impacting them.”

Since July 2022, the 988 Helpline has answered 34,303 calls, texts and chats.

A primary goal of the new 988 Dashboard is to inform citizens that the 988 helpline is not just for suicide intervention.

“There was a shift at the national level to change from a suicide only line to encompass all crisis, and to make it inclusive of any type of crisis, and that crisis is really self-defined by the caller.”

The 988 Dashboard takes demographic data and synthesizes it in an easy to understand manner. According to the dashboard – which has been updated through August 2023 – the top needs in Calcasieu Parish are housing, financial assistance, food and mental health.

Intervention statistics

regarding transportation, rent assistance and utility assistance are also charted.

Data is self-reported and only accounts for approximately 20 percent of calls, she said.

LDH wants to increase help-seeking habits and remove the stigma associated with crisis intervention and mental health. By making the information on the dashboard publically available, this mission is possible, she said.

“Everybody needs help with something at some point … the more that we talk about it and have an open conversation, we think that that can help reduce stigma.”

In December 2022, LDH conducted research via focus groups to gauge the reception that high-risk groups – service member, veterans and their families, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, BIPOC populations and suicide survivors – had towards the helpline. They determined that the most efficient thing that crisis counselors can do is provide hope.

“People want to know that there’s hope for tomorrow, that things can get better.”

The helpline is free and available 24/7 to ensure those in need have “someone to call, a listening ear.” This is the goal of the helpline.

“What we’ve found is a lot of people, they just need someone to listen to them non-judgmentally.”

The LDH Office of Behavioral Health works with two centers operating in Louisiana. One is in Bossier City, which answers calls from area codes 318 and 337. The second is based in New Orleans and serves calls from the 504, 225 and 985 area codes.

The centers serve and backup routing centers for each other to ensure a “multi-layered” response. When it comes to crisis intervention, it is vital to keep it local.

“We know our Louisiana callers to the helpline, they’re best served by those local call centers that are familiar with the local resources and stressors that Louisiana callers face.”

The 988 Helpline can be reached online at louisiana988.org. The dashboard can be accessed at ldh.la.gov/988.

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