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Kansas City-area mental health centers ramping up services after increase in 988 crisis hotline calls

New 988 hotline launched last July
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or is in need of mental health help, you can call the current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. The 10-digit number will remain active, even after 988 launches on July 16.
Posted at 5:55 PM, Mar 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-20 19:17:28-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jason Sudeikis, the "Ted Lasso" star and Kansas City native, was invited to the White House to raise awareness about the importance of being honest and open about mental health struggles.

He was joined by his co-stars to discuss mental health, which is one of the main themes in the hit Apple+ show.

"It's one of the many things that, believe it or not, we all have in common as human beings," Sudeikis said, talking about mental health at the White House on Monday.

We've seen a shift over the last couple years due to the pandemic and shows like "Ted Lasso" that have helped us realize it's okay to talk about our mental health.

Resources in the Kansas City area have ramped up as more people reach out for help.

The new suicide and crisis hotline number is now 988, which launched nationwide last July. You can call or text the number, or chat online with a 988 mental health expert anonymously at any time.

Click here to find out more about the 988 hotline or to chat with a mental health professional.

"We anticipated a pretty significant increase in call volume and I think we've seen that both here in Kansas and around the country," Andy Brown, who leads the Behavioral Health Services division for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Service, said.

Brown said since the 988 launch, the four Kansas call centers have received 15,032 calls. The center has also received 3,727 text, as well as 3,278 chats online.

"Most of the calls that come in to the crisis line are able to be resolved without having to send additional help, but the follow up care is really good," Brown said. "We try to get people connected to local services."

When people call or text the line, they can talk to a licensed counselor who can help them assess their risk level and walk them through their options.

If someone's risk level is high or if the person is in imminent risk of harm, then "additional resources are put into play."

Brown said the Kansas hotline answer time is 18 seconds, which can be crucial for someone in a crisis.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly announced in February that the state's call-answer rate was 85% to 91%, amid increased call volume.

According to KDADS, other states have struggled with call volume, which sends more calls to out-of-state centers.

Kansas answered about 60% of National Suicide Prevention Lifeline calls in-state, with the rest of the calls going to a national backup center.

Brown said the goal is for all 26 Kansas mental health centers to transition into certified clinical behavioral health clinics (CCBHC), which means they can provide more comprehensive care.

"We know we're not meeting the full need that exists in Johnson County, so this provides us an opportunity to expand to serve more people," said Tim DeWeese, the director of the Johnson County mental health center.

The center has already transitioned to a CCBHC, and has hired on 21 more people to support the need.

DeWeese said Johnson County received 44,000 crisis calls in 2022.

The county received a grant to help train the city of Olathe, Olathe Public Schools, and Olathe fire and police on how to better identify a mental health crisis and respond to it.

Adult and Youth Mental Health First Aid courses are also available to anyone in the community throughout the year. Click here for dates and classes.

The county is also working on launching a mental health court for people in the criminal justice system who have specific needs, similar to what a drug court does for people with substance abuse issues.

While an uptick in calls might sound like a negative thing at first, DeWeese says it's actually a positive.

"What we would hope to see is that as more people reach out for help, we see less involvement with law enforcement, we see less involvement in the court system, we see higher rates of kids doing better in school, we see a decrease in the suicide rate," DeWeese said.

DeWeese said in a previous story with KSHB 41 News that because of increased resources and being open about mental health, teen suicide rates have come down over the last five years.

The Missouri Department of Mental Health has received about twice the amount of 988 calls as Kansas.

Since last July, Missouri's 988 call centers have taken 32,550 calls and they have received 3,637 texts and 5,465 online chats.

Debra Walker, the director of public affairs for Missouri's mental health department, said approximately 43.03% of calls/texts/chats were referred to further services since July 2022.