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'Testament to how seriously the state is taking suicide prevention': State launches mental health lifeline dashboard

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A sign listing numbers for the suicide hotline and CAPS is posted on a light pole outside of Murphey Hall on Oct. 11, 2021.

This article is part of the Mental Health Collaborative, a project completed by nine North Carolina college newsrooms to cover mental health issues in their communities. To read more stories about mental health, explore the interactive project developed specifically for this collaborative.


In December 2023, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services launched a performance dashboard to track calls made to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

The lifeline is a free, confidential service created by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in partnership with Vibrant Emotional Health, launched in 2005. Upon calling, users are connected to local call centers within their state. The crisis line aims to provide callers with both acute crisis intervention strategies, as well as general mental health support.

“When you call, they will hook you up with anything,” Kelly Crosbie, the director of the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Use Services at the NCDHHS, said.

She said that only about 15 percent of users who call are in active crisis.

Some of the data provided by the dashboard includes demographic statistics of callers, their reasons for contacting the crisis line and what support or services the call center referred them to.

“The dashboard, I think, is helpful to provide transparency about the impact that service is having for our state,” Michael Kane, the director of clinical data science and advanced analytics and a child and adolescent psychiatrist at UNC, said. “And so, I think the public can use the dashboard to continue to build faith in this service — being something that's ready, available for when folks need it.”

A nationwide 988 dashboard exists as well, detailing answer speed and call length across the country. The lifeline has subnetworks to provide individuals with specialized services, such as Spanish and LGBTQI+ subnetworks. Calls can also be routed to a separate Veterans Crisis Line that is operated in partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Other states, such as Georgia, Louisiana and Wyoming, have similar dashboards that track 988 lifeline data on a state level. These dashboards are helpful for states to assess their suicide prevention efforts and identification of places in which more support is needed, Kane said.

Overall, there were 1,420 calls from Orange County residents, with the rate of calls being slightly higher than most other surrounding counties. The most common reason for contacting the crisis line statewide was interpersonal or family issues, followed by depression.

Virginia Rodillas, the director of helpline operations at the North Carolina branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said that 988 Lifeline call center dispatchers are trained to de-escalate situations and provide callers with the appropriate resources, such as directing them to "warm lines" — as opposed to hotlines — which are for less intense or less time-sensitive situations.

Very rarely are law enforcement agencies involved when an individual calls the 988 Lifeline, Crosby said. Instead, mobile crisis units are deployed to those in active crises. These teams include a social worker in an unmarked vehicle to assess emergency situations. In 2023, only 11.8 percent of callers were referred to mobile crisis units.

As of 2021, North Carolina’s age-adjusted suicide mortality rate was 0.8 percent lower than the nation’s average. North Carolina’s average 988 Lifeline answer time in 2023 was 14 seconds, whereas the national average was 39 seconds.

“We're doing so well nationally in terms of where our numbers, our benchmarks are compared to the national averages,” Kane said. “I think it's a testament to how seriously the state is taking suicide prevention and the resources that they're putting toward mental health in general.”

@LolaOliverio

@DTHCityStatecity@dailytarheel.com

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