988 crisis line to go live Saturday; it’ll link Kansans quickly to mental health help

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Line will be a ‘vital tool’ as a component of Douglas County’s integrated behavioral health care system, local leader says

Beginning Saturday, people considering suicide or experiencing a mental health crisis will be only three digits away from speaking directly to trained counselors available year-round, 24 hours a day.

This weekend, Kansas is joining the nationwide adoption of 988 as a more specific alternative to 911 that will provide immediate access to crisis counselors. Help will be available by phone or text message.

In Douglas County, this new system will enhance existing services and direct some callers to access behavioral health treatment through the county’s new integrated system of care that includes Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, Lawrence Memorial Hospital, Headquarters Counseling Center, and, later this summer, the county’s new Treatment and Recovery Center.

Monica Kurz, vice president of policy and prevention at Kansas Suicide Prevention HQ, said 988 was the culmination of many years of advocacy and determination.

“Now, when Kansans experience a crisis, they are three-digits away from being connected with trained counselors who are ready to help them navigate any situation,” she said in a news release.

Data from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, launched in 2005, shows that more than 80% of crisis center callers can be helped over the phone, reducing the need for law enforcement agencies to respond to reports of mental health concerns.

According to the KSPHQ, 988 services also reduce visits to emergency departments. Although some people in Lawrence may still access behavioral health services first at LMH or through law enforcement, Douglas County has worked for more than five years to establish a new, integrated system that will divert people from those agencies and serve the wide-ranging needs of people in the community.

Bob Tryanski, Douglas County’s director of behavioral health projects, said efforts to provide tailored and effective care will be a team effort by multiple agencies. The hope is to help as many people as possible over the phone, but when the need arises, the county will be able to dispatch a mobile crisis response team.

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times A crowd listens to Bob Tryanski speak at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Douglas County’s Treatment and Recovery Center, June 23, 2022.

Those who need help also will soon have access to the county’s new treatment and recovery center. The TRC will serve walk-in clients seeking assistance, and has an observation component and stabilization care. Staff onsite will include mental health care providers, medical professionals, peer support specialists, behavioral health technicians, licensed addiction counselors, case managers and psychiatric caregivers.

Longer-term care and housing can be found on the Recovery Campus in the Transitions house, a congregate-style living setting that serves up to 12 clients for up to 12 months, or in The Cottages, which are 10 individual units providing permanent supportive housing for individuals with serious persistent mental illness.

Tryanski said that although the TRC’s construction is complete and staffing is underway, licensing had been delayed. He said he anticipated that the center would be operational by the end of the summer.

“That will be the system of care: mobile teams, crisis facility, and then discharge planning,” Tryanski said. “988 is a vital tool, but it’s just one component.”

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According to the NSPL website, dialing 988 will connect individuals, regardless of location, to a crisis call center staffed by accredited counselors who can de-escalate a situation, “listen, understand how their problems are affecting them, provide support, and connect them to resources as necessary.”

More than 200 crisis call centers nationwide have been part of the NSPL network since 2005. Kansans will be served by KSPHQ in Lawrence, COMCARE of Sedgwick County, and the Johnson County Mental Health Center.

The 988 system will use area codes to determine where to route calls.

Tryanski noted that students or others with cellphones whose area codes serve other locations need to be aware that if they dial 988, their call will go to a crisis center that serves the population of that area code. In that situation, Tryanski recommended using KSPHQ’s existing crisis line, 785-841-2345, which will connect them with Headquarters.

After Saturday, callers can use either 988 or continue to access help using the KSPHQ number, or by calling the NSPL hotline at 800-273-8255. Those numbers will remain in operation after 988 is implemented.

The launch of the 988 program is expected to increase demand at call centers, which may increase the need for volunteers who assist staff.

“We wouldn’t be able to provide this level of service to all 105 Kansas counties if it weren’t for our dedicated staff and volunteers,” Steve Devore, president and CEO of KSPHQ, said in the organization’s news release. “Their love and dedication allows Kansans to always receive crisis help when they need it: 24/7 and 365.”

Visit the Kansas Suicide Prevention HQ website for crisis intervention services, information about 988, volunteer opportunities, or how to support crisis care locally.

Get mental health help in Lawrence

These resources are available 24/7 if you or someone you know needs immediate mental health help:

• Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center: 785-843-9192
• Kansas Suicide Prevention HQ (formerly Headquarters): 785-841-2345
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Dial 988; veterans, press 1
• SAMHSA Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator and Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

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Andrea Albright (she/her), reporter, can be reached at aalbright (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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Kaw Valley Almanac for May 27 – June 2, 2024

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Look closely at the gnarly bark of this cottonwood and near the top you will see a 17 year cicada from Brood XIX, which extends into the eastern two columns of counties in Kansas, even though most maps don’t show them going this far west.

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