The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through its Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), announced a $282 million investment to help transition the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline from its current 10-digit number to a three-digit dialing code – 988.
Once implemented, the 988 code is intended to be a first step toward transforming crisis care in the United States by creating a universal entry point to needed crisis services in line with access to other emergency medical services.
With funds from the Biden-Harris Administration’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 budget and additional funds from the American Rescue Plan, SAMHSA’s $282 million investment will support 988 efforts across the country to shore up, scale up and staff up, including:
$177 million to strengthen and expand the existing Lifeline network operations and telephone infrastructure, including centralized chat/text response, backup center capacity, and special services (e.g., a sub-network for Spanish language-speakers).
$105 million to build up staffing across states’ local crisis call centers.
The team at iCarol is excited to see the commitment and investment on behalf of the US government towards the 988 initiative. We believe that 988 will improve accessibility and equity for Americans seeking emotional support and assistance. By designating a three-digit number for suicide prevention and mental health crises, our leaders send a clear message that these concerns deserve the same immediate attention and access to assistance as a physical health emergency, while also reducing harmful stigmas that create barriers to treatment. As the leading software provider among the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network of centers, we stand ready to support our customers making the transition to answering 988, and welcome new centers coming on board for the 988 initiative.
This blog was originally published in December 2020. As this pandemic rages on, the message remains relevant, and so we’re sharing it with you again to mark the 2021 holiday season.
Content warning: This post discusses sensitive topics such as suicide and abuse.
In a year as strange and relentless as 2020, I needed a sense of normalcy more than ever this holiday season, and that came in the form of my annual viewing of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” In years’ past, the film’s theme of suicide prevention struck me most. But like a lot of things, the experience of 2020 placed a new filter over the movie for me, and I started noticing elements that, while always there, hadn’t been as noticeable to me before.
The crises of 2020 were relentless. And when the bad news just keeps coming and it feels there’s no end in sight, no clear solution or relief, it can be easy to fall into total despair. George Bailey experiences this very thing in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George passed on his own dreams so the dreams of others could be realized and those he loved could be happy, and for awhile he appears okay with that. Then a series of crises compound, and old trauma and resentments quickly rise to the surface. George, completely devoid of hope and solutions, is now staring into the icy churning waters of a river flowing beneath him. For all his good deeds and sacrifices, look at how bad things are. What was it all for? He contemplates how the world might be better off if he wasn’t here, or if he never existed at all.
George’s scenario got me thinking about the exhaustive work so many people have been doing all throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, only to have things stay the same, or get worse, day in and day out, with no relief in sight. When there’s no clear impact or positive change to motivate you, to reassure you that your sacrifices and work matters, how do you keep going? How do you resist despair and hopelessness?
I think the answer is similar to what we see in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George can’t see his positive impact until he’s shown a world without him in it. Perhaps we need to briefly imagine what the world would look like without those forces of good working hard to help others.
What would our world look like now if helplines, contact centers, and other community services didn’t exist?
Contact centers and Information and Referral services like 2-1-1 commonly act as their community’s primary source of information about COVID-19, providing information on everything from common symptoms to look for and where to go to get tested. In many cases 2-1-1 became the official state/provincial source of COVID-19 information. Without that centralized information delivery service, health departments, emergency rooms, and medical offices are overwhelmed with people seeking information. Phone lines jam and human resources are syphoned from direct care treating those who are ill. Fewer people know where to get tested. More people get sick, and more lives are lost as a result.
The economic fallout from the pandemic will be with us for some time. Some say the financial recovery may take longer than public health recovery. Thankfully, people looking for financial assistance for their very survival—help with utilities or food—had places to reach. Places where a compassionate and knowledgeable specialist could, in a single interaction, provide ideas and resources that may help with several needs. Without those contact centers, those in need are left feeling lost and overwhelmed. Already worn down by their situation, they must now spend time and effort navigating the network of community services on their own. They don’t know how the systems work. They are frustrated and even more overwhelmed. It takes longer to access assistance. They miss several meals. They only find out about a fraction of the services for which they were eligible.
Quarantines and stay-at-home orders kept people at home more, and for many the people they live with are a source of comfort. For others, it’s a source of conflict or even danger. Suddenly, vulnerable individuals suffering abuse at the hands of a parent or partner, or LGBTQIA youth living with unsupportive family members, were cut off from their daily escapes and support systems. Without services specializing in providing safety and emotional support, they become more isolated. Tensions in the household rise. Abused partners and Queer youth have no professional confidential counseling to access quietly and privately through chats or text messages. There’s no emergency shelter to escape to.
Viruses and physical health have taken center stage this year, but the mental health toll is undeniable. We’ve been going through a collective, worldwide trauma. Everything familiar was disrupted and the entire concept of “normal” disappeared overnight. Many people are experiencing emotions they aren’t sure what to do with, and they aren’t ready to talk to their friends or loved ones. Others lack those connections and are processing things all on their own. Imagine a world without an outlet to help one cope with those feelings. No warmlines or impartial empathetic listeners, no crisis or suicide prevention services. The emotional suffering deepens and spreads, and we lose even more people to a different type of pandemic—suicide—that was present long before COVID-19.
So yes, 2020 was the worst, filled with more crises happening all at once than many of us could have imagined. And in a seemingly never-ending string of challenges, it may feel at times like your contributions, all your exhaustive efforts, aren’t making a dent. If reassurance and evidence of your impact seems elusive, think back to George Bailey’s tour of seedy Pottersville, the bad place version of Bedford Falls. Close your eyes and take a stroll through that scary, imaginary world without organizations like yours, and see that things could actually be much worse. It’s because of the good work of those who care, like you, that it isn’t.
Today the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline was featured in a special report by KTVB 7 news in Boise, which highlighted their services and impact on the community.
Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline Director Lee Flinn shared that, “Idaho’s suicide rate right now is 46% higher than the national rate. So it’s quite high…We really are here for anyone who is in crisis, whether it’s a suicidal crisis or a different kind of crisis, and we want people to know that we’re always here and we’re always ready to listen.”
The volume of incoming requests for help is increasing, with August bringing in the most contacts to date. And while helping a record number of people is keeping their 80 volunteers and staff busier than ever, Lee Flinn feels it’s a good sign, saying, “it means that people are reaching out for help, and we want people to reach out for help.”
To watch the video and read the full story, visit the KTVB website.
When your organization is featured in the media, be sure to let me know so I can share it on our blog!
On Wednesday, June 16, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) announced that Vibrant Emotional Health will be the administrators of the new 988 dialing code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the United States. Vibrant, in partnership with SAMHSA, has administered the Lifeline since its creation in 2005. Click here to read SAMHSA’s full statement.
The team at iCarol extends our congratulations to Vibrant Emotional Health for being designated as administrators of the 988 dialing code. Through our years working with Vibrant Emotional Health and the many Lifeline Network Centers answering calls to 1-800-273-TALK, we have seen firsthand the passion and professionalism these teams bring to their work addressing the critical public health issues of suicide and mental health. We believe that 988 will improve accessibility and equity for Americans seeking emotional support and assistance. By designating a three-digit number for suicide prevention and mental health crises, our leaders send a clear message that these concerns deserve the same immediate attention and access to assistance as a physical health emergency, while also reducing harmful stigmas that create barriers to treatment. As the leading software provider among the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network of centers, we stand ready to support our customers making the transition to answering 988, and welcome new centers coming on board for the 988 initiative.
The conference is a convergence of professionals working across the spectrum of the suicide prevention industry, from those operating crisis centers and other direct care services, to professionals working in academic settings conducting suicide prevention research, and advocates focused on prevention, education and awareness.
So we can continue to stay ahead of the topics that most impact iCarol’s customers, on Wednesday Dana will attend the Crisis Continuum pre-conference program, which concludes with a session on network updates and future directions for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network.
Having supported crisis centers since the earliest days of the Lifeline network, and serving a large portion of the network that are iCarol customers, we have witnessed the Lifeline’s growth year after year, both in the number of participating centers and the volume of contacts the Lifeline receives through calls, chats, and other forms of communication. At this year’s update we’re anticipating the latest news from the 988 transition plan and how that will affect members of the Lifeline network. We’re also closely following the continuing conversations on how communities are changing their practices around responding to mental health emergencies and similar crises, with a shift towards crisis intervention teams and other professionals leading the response as opposed to law enforcement.
These discussions directly inform iCarol’s strategy and product development in the coming months and years, which ensures we will continue to meet the needs of suicide prevention and crisis centers everywhere, providing the tools they need to do their life-saving work.
If you plan to be at the AAS Conference, please stop by our virtual booth to download our new guides and materials, including a brand new ebook on choosing software for crisis intervention and suicide prevention services. We’ll also be available for virtual meetings at your convenience to answer your questions, or have conversations about your challenges or projects and explore how iCarol can be of assistance.
The 54th Annual Conference of the American Association of Suicidology (AAS) is scheduled to be held in Orlando, Florida, April 21-24, 2021, with pre-conference workshops taking place on April 21st. The event will offer a mix of in-person and virtual content with a theme of “Social Contexts in Suicide: Upstream Perspectives on Theory, Research, and Prevention.”
AAS has extended the Call for Papers deadline to November 15, 2020 at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time. They invite proposals for individual papers, posters, panel discussions, symposia, and workshops, and are also accepting presentations for several preconference programs:
AAS Preconference Workshops
Crisis Services Continuum Conference
Military and Veteran Suicide Prevention Preconference
Proposals must follow specific guidelines and be submitted online to receive consideration. Abstracts that do not conform to the guidelines may not be reviewed. Applicants will be asked to select keywords identifying key elements of the submission, and those keywords will be used to index the conference program.
President Donald Trump recently signed the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act into law in the United States, a move celebrated by mental health and suicide prevention advocates. The act assigns 9-8-8 as a national, three-digit number dedicated to suicide prevention and mental health crisis response. The number will become active and available in 2022.
This law signals a recognition that mental health crises are just as important and deserve the same emergency response as the medical emergencies which are reported to their own national three-digit number, 9-1-1.
The law does not create a new service, as the US already has a national number for suicide prevention. Instead, this new law creates a the pathway for a new, easier way for people to reach existing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services available through the existing Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), a service provided by a network of about 170 local crisis centers around the country.
Once three-digit dialing is activated in 2022, experts anticipate that call volume to the crisis centers will increase. The new law creates funding and resources for local crisis centers that will enable them to meet this demand. And, similar to nominal fees charged that support 9-1-1 services, the law will give states the authority to levy fees on wireless bills to support the 9-8-8 service.
The iCarol team applauds Congress and the President of the United States for making three-digit dialing for suicide prevention a reality after years of advocacy by mental health and suicide prevention experts. We have no doubt that the establishment of 9-8-8 will make it easier for people in crisis to reach assistance and receive help. As the software provider for many of the Lifeline crisis centers, iCarol pledges to monitor the progress of 9-8-8 activation, and provide assistance and support to our customers throughout this process.
As another year closes and a new one begins, we naturally reflect on the accomplishments, celebrations, and important moments of 2019 while anticipating all that lies ahead. Personally, I consider the past year to be one full of progress, both in the industries we serve and here at iCarol.
All year we engage with our customers at industry conferences, forums, and in other capacities so we can be intimately aware of the topics currently affecting them and others on the horizon. This helps us to respond in kind to meet these needs with new, innovative solutions from iCarol. This year was no exception – we have seen movement across all of the industries we serve that open opportunities for our customers that we are actively exploring ways to support using iCarol software.
In the world of Information and Referral, the topics of Social Determinants of Health, Closed-loop referral, and further encouragement to engage in partnerships and collaboration all show promise for many exciting opportunities for our customers. Those working to address sexual and intimate partner violence continue to advocate for education, awareness, prevention, improved response, and justice for all those who experienced a crime. We’re excited to see their advocacy result in new legislation across several states that extend statutes of limitations for crimes, signaling better recognition of the complexities and time involved for survivors to report, and improved allocation of resources towards testing material from forensic exams, improving the chances that survivors will receive justice. In December, the United States Federal Communications Commission unanimously voted to establish a three-digit number to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the next 18 months. This is long sought after acknowledgement that mental health emergencies deserve the same attention and response as the types of emergencies reported to 9-1-1, something suicide prevention advocates have long been pressing for as a way to prevent suicide. Finally, concerns about consent for contact and data privacy continue to loom large across the world. Previous years have given us CASL in Canada and GDPR in the EU, both sweeping and comprehensive sets of regulations. Now we are beginning to see individual states and provinces taking on the task of writing their own legislation to protect consumers from having their data harvested and sold without their knowledge and consent, most notably in California’s Consumer Protection Act. We are doing all we can, and relying on our resources available through Harris Computer, to make sure that we are in full compliance with such laws, and that our customers are aware of how these laws may impact them directly.
These are just a few examples of developments impacting our customers in the year ahead. Of course we will look for any ways iCarol can support our customers through these changes, and help them carry out their life saving work. Look for more from us on our blog and webinars for updates on how we are addressing these topics.
The industries we serve aren’t the only ones experiencing progress – iCarol, too, went through positive changes in 2019. In December we moved to a new infrastructure on which the iCarol web application runs – Microsoft Azure. The migration to this new platform was the culmination of a year’s worth of planning and effort, and was not without its challenges and setbacks, but we are delighted to now be fully operational in the new environment and excited for all it means for our customers. Microsoft Azure will help us provide the most up-to-date, technologically advanced platform available. We can scale and ramp up performance as needed to meet increases in system use, whether it be due to an event, disaster, or the normal periodic demands on the system that occur for monthly exports and reporting. We are delighted not just by the way this move allows us to be more responsive to system demands, but knowing that Azure offers built-in security services that include unparalleled security intelligence. We are very excited to track data over time to show how this new infrastructure improves performance and stability, and supports the future growth in iCarol’s customer base.
I must acknowledge and express deep gratitude for the great support and patience we received from our customers during this transition and in the months prior. Our customers exercised immense trust and patience with us as we developed the plan to make this sweeping change to our infrastructure. Their user testing of the new environment, feedback, and communication with us greatly contributed to the success of this project. I cannot say enough wonderful things about our customers as essential partners with us on this journey.
There is much more to share about what was accomplished in the year behind us, and what’s on our agenda for the year ahead. Later this month we will host a “State of iCarol” webinar for our customers reviewing 2019 progress and our plans for 2020. You can also look to our blogs and email updates, and for customers, our Admin Dashboard, for more exciting information as it develops.
So, as this new year begins, I wish to thank everyone who makes it their life’s work to help others, most especially our customers, on behalf of the entire iCarol Team. Every day we see the positive impact you have on individuals and communities as a whole, and we could not be more honored to play a small part in the amazing work you do. The team at iCarol is excited to see what 2020 holds and hope for continued progress towards a safer, happier, and healthier society thanks to the work you do.
Samaritans of FR/NB, Inc. is a suicide prevention hotline open to all callers, 15 hours a day, 7 days a week and is available free to anyone who needs support. It is staffed by caring, compassionate and confidential volunteers specially trained in listening, crisis management and suicide prevention. More than 18,000 calls are answered at our center every year. In addition to receiving inbound calls from those in need, our volunteers are engaged with our senior citizen population, survivors of suicide, veterans and local organizations and school groups. Kare Calls are made to senior citizens who might otherwise be lonely and isolated. Samaritans of FR/NB hosts Safe Place, a peer-to-peer support group for suicide loss survivors. Our Outreach to Local Veterans Program at the Fall River Veterans Center eliminates isolation and provides veterans with a degree of hope. Samaritans of FR/NB also provides outreach education about suicide prevention to local school groups and organizations and at health fairs.
Volunteer Coordinator Role:
The role of the Volunteer Coordinator is to recruit, train, supervise and support volunteers who fulfill Samaritans of FR/NB’s mission to reduce and prevent future suicides from occurring.
This week, Polly McDaniel, Director of Business Development, and Veronica Ross, Solutions Expert, are joining crisis center directors and staff from across the US at the National Crisis Center Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The theme of this year’s conference is “Reaching the Summit: Innovate to Elevate.” Of the theme, organizers say, “During times of division and uncertainty, crisis organizations are needing to use their collective creative energies to remain relevant and sustainable. But challenging times can bring out the best in crisis organizations. We are excited to hear what innovative and creative programs and approaches are being implemented by our crisis organization colleagues.”
At iCarol, we are strong proponents of innovation as a means for a crisis center’s growth, improved efficiency, and better outcomes for the people they serve. We’re very excited to partake in the conversations at the conference this year, and to see how we can help crisis centers innovate to elevate their service delivery.
The two entities presenting this conference, CONTACT USA (CUSA) and the National Association of Crisis Organization Directors (NASCOD) have a phenomenal history of supporting crisis work and we recommend considering membership for your service if you are a helpline, warmline, crisis center, suicide prevention service, or similar organization. By joining them you’ll discover fantastic networking and knowledge sharing from caring individuals who can relate to your day-to-day joys and challenges as a manager or executive director of a not-for-profit. Find out more about CUSA membership here and NASCOD membership here.
Our history with this group and conference is our longest association, going way back to iCarol’s earliest days, and many of the helplines and crisis centers who host this conference were some of iCarol’s earliest users. It’s a long standing relationship that we value and we’re proud to not only attend but are also long-term sponsors of this important gathering organized by pillars of the helpline industry.
As with all conferences we attend, we welcome the opportunity to connect with old friends and new ones. We’re eager to hear about your latest projects and discuss ways iCarol can support you and the needs of your community. Both Polly and Veronica will be on hand throughout the conference to answer questions and talk about how iCarol can help. We look forward to seeing you!