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Cuyahoga County sees increase in mental health calls after 988 launch

988 pic crop.jpg
Lisa Ryan
Ideastream Public Media
988 is the new Suicide Prevention number. Mental health care advocates believe it will be easier to remember and provide people with an option to receive specialized services 911 can't provide.

If you or a loved one are having thoughts of suicide, call 988, the new number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Cleveland-based Frontline Services saw a nearly 50 percent increase in call volume Saturday, the day the national 988 suicide prevention hotline officially launched.

Frontline, which already operates a local suicide prevention and crisis hotline, was chosen by state officials to be the regional crisis center in Cuyahoga County.

The idea behind the new number is that it is easier to remember and will reduce the reliance on 911, instead providing more specialized behavioral health services in an emergency.

On Saturday, Frontline staff received 188 calls. On a typical Saturday, they average about 126 calls, said Rick Oliver, director of crisis and trauma services.

Of those 188 calls, 51 of them were from the 988 line, he said.

"So the increase in total call volume was about 49% from what we would typically expect," Oliver said in an email to Ideastream Public Media.

Before the launch, many organizations, including Frontline Services, said they were not fully staffed. Oliver said the increase in calls did present a challenge for the crisis center.

On Sunday, Frontline Services received 180 calls.

"This call volume was a challenge to handle, but for both days we answered about 79% of the calls in under 30 seconds. We usually answer around 90% under 30 seconds," Oliver said in an email statement.

The average wait time for anyone who wasn’t connected immediately was about 3 minutes, he said.

"We did have several people who hung up before we could answer their call (most holding for less than 1 minute), but most of those callers called back and got through to a crisis worker," he said.

Before the official launch, Frontline Services and other regional crisis centers started answering calls from the national number to ensure they were ready. It was a soft launch before the official July 16th launch, and during that time, they averaged about 20 calls on a typical Saturday, Oliver said.

So that number essentially doubled on the day of its official launch.

Lorain County's Nord Center is the primary call center for 10 Ohio counties, Lorain, Medina, Ashland, Richland, Erie, Huron, Ottawa, Sandusky, Seneca, and Wyandot counties.

Portage Path Behavioral Health is the designated agency to handle 988 calls from Summit and Lake counties. Townhall II will answer calls from Portage County, and Ravenwood Health will be the primary call center for Geauga County.

Coleman Professional Services will answer calls from Stark, Wayne, Holmes, Tuscarawas, and Carroll counties.

Help Network of Northeast Ohio is the primary call center for Ashtabula, Trumbull, Mahoning, and Columbiana counties.

    Lisa Ryan is a health reporter at Ideastream Public Media.