Aug 30, 2023

988 Crisis, Suicide Lifeline fills gap in rural Kansas but has limitations

Posted Aug 30, 2023 10:01 AM

Hays Post

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline has been in operation for a little more than a year.

A group gathered in Dodge City for a "Standing in the Gap: Rural and Frontier Access to Mental Health Care" summit last week and discussed the role the 988 crisis line plays in providing crisis intervention in rural Kansas.

The event was sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Kansas, which is also known as NAMI.

988 offers 24/7 access anywhere in the United States to trained crisis counselors who can help people experiencing mental health-related distress, according to the 988 resource materials.

Anyone can call or text 988 or chat on the 988 website at You can call for yourself or for a loved one for whom you have concerns.

Within 988's first year of operation, it received more than 2 million calls, texts and chat messages, according to the Associated Press.

The new line, which was modeled to resemble the 911 emergency line, has seen an increase from the previous national suicide and crisis line. 

The 988 helpline registered 154,585 more calls, texts and chat messages during November 2022 compared to the old national lifeline in November 2021, according to the Associated Press.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration noted a 1,227 percent increase in texts, and veterans crisis services, which can be accessed through the 988, saw a 10 percent increase, according to the Associated Press.

"It's in its infancy, Clayton Levret, pharmacologist and PsychU presenter, said of the hotline. "I want to bring attention to how important it is to bring people together not just around 988 but also with the summit today and around the rural community and all of the other challenges that you face."

Sixty-five percent of nonmetropolitan counties don't have psychiatrists, Levret Sixty percent of rural Americans live in areas with mental health provider shortages.

Levret said through his research he found suicide happens within 11 minutes. If intervention can be achieved within that time, the thought process can be interrupted.

988 differs from 911 in that it is a crisis response line and not a dispatch line. If you need medical help or police, you still need to call 911.

However, Brooks Robertson of the Kansas 988 system, which is based out of Lawrence, said people do not need to be suicidal to reach out. 

"One thing we found was people knew they were in crisis, but they didn't necessarily know if they could call it a suicidal crisis. They did not know if 988 was an appropriate space and an appropriate pathway for them," Robertson said.

"We really want to encourage folks who experience crises of all shapes, all sizes, whether that's a crisis related to substance use, whether that's a general suicidal crisis or a crisis related to mental health.

"If you are worried about someone else—someone you love, someone you know— and you want to know the best way to connect them to the best pathway to support, that crisis counselor on the other end of those three numbers will work with you as well."

988 is available regardless of age, which means resources are available for youth. Spanish-speaking crisis counselors are available. Those who are deaf or hard of hearing can use the chat or text options or use a relay service by dialing 711 and then 988.

Many people use 988 fully anonymously without giving their name, Robertson said.

For the phone line, 80 percent of the calls come from people who are 20 or older. On the flip side, 80 percent of the text contacts are from people who are younger than 20.

"There are so many different reasons why someone chooses one avenue of communication over another, whether that's ability or preference, but it really goes to show how having these different methods of preference for folks can really drive engagement and provide a space that is most comfortable for that person," Robertson said.

Calling 988 is not a cure-all, Robertson said.

"We want to reserve the space for people to call and not have the pressure to instantly become better today. A lot of people use 988 as a stopgap service between therapy appointments or other appointments they may have," Robertson said.

However, 988 has limitations.

988 routes calls by area code. In a community like Hays, which is home to students from other states, calls may be routed out of state.

If you have an Ohio area code, your call will be routed to Ohio. That may make getting the caller connected to resources in the community for follow-up difficult, Robertson said.

That is why making people aware of local crisis lines through community mental health centers is also important, Robertson said.

"If you are in crisis, call 988," Robertson said. "You have a direct connection to a compassionate support person who will be able to work with you through de-escalation, assess safety for you in that moment, work with you on a collaborative safety plan and hopefully get that conversation to a place that next connection can be made with whatever resource needs to be.

"We also want to share that if you are looking for that direct connection and that local support, reach out to that local crisis line. That's going to be the best pathway to that local resource."

High Plains Mental Health Center is the community mental health center for Ellis County and most of northwest Kansas. It's 24/7 crisis line is 1-800-432-0333.

Robertson said 988 counselors will try to connect with local 911 if they believe callers are in immediate danger. However, if someone is directed out of state, making those connections can be much more difficult.

Despite its limitations, Levret said 988 is an important tool.

"The most important thing I can say today is 988 saves lives," he said.

Other resources

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

NAMI Golden Plains, which serves Ellis, Graham, Lane, Ness, Rooks, Rush and Trego counties, can be reached at [email protected] or 785-214-4538 or follow them on Facebook at

A combined NAMI Golden Plains Connection and Family Support Group, which is for people with a mental illness or who have family members with a mental illness, meets the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Oak Plaza, 103C E. 27th St., Hays.

NOTE:  The NAMI Golden Plains Connection Support Group is now offered as a hybrid/in-person meeting as desired. Contact [email protected] if you wish to attend by Zoom.

NAMI campus FHSU meets at 3:30 p.m. every other Wednesday in Rarick Hall, room 107. The next meeting is Sept. 6.

American Society for Suicide Prevention

National Institute of Mental Health 

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

High Plains Independence—Social and peer support, 1200 Canterbury, Hays, KS, 785-621-4188