The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020 would establish 988 as a national three-digit mental health care and suicide prevention hotline. The bill has passed through the House and the Senate, and as of early October it awaits President Trump’s signature to be signed into law. It would pave the way for the hotline to become fully operational by July 2022. Axis Health System (AHS) provides local crisis care in Southwest Colorado, including the 24/7 Axis Care Hotline. The AHS staff offers the following questions and answers around the potential impact of this national project on local services.

How might the 988 hotline affect Axis services? 

Having a 988 national call system is an important move to simplify access to the current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline that aligns with the concept of the 911 as the standard for medical emergencies. While this is a federal initiative that AHS supports, our focus will continue to be on coordinating with key partners and agencies as this new system is put in place. Our goal is to ensure that community members continue to have immediate and appropriate resources at the local level for mental health crisis response. As this new system is developed and implemented, we will continue to ensure that our local number and resources remain available. This new system does not change our role as the local emergency mental health provider.

Will the 988 number be a separate service from what Axis offers?

As of early October 2020, we don’t have a lot of information about what to expect in terms of any changes to the referral or transfer systems. However, we are committed to working with the appropriate involved entities to support the changeover and to make sure our patients, partners and community know how to access national resources for mental health and substance use services as well as the how to access the local resources and services. This move to simplify and increase access to suicide prevention resources through the new 988 number is an important first step, but is one of many that will be needed as we work to prevent suicide as one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States. It doesn’t change the resources that are currently available.

Which line should people call when they are in crisis: national, state or local?

It’s important to know that the 988 option is not yet approved or active and if approved would not be available until the summer of 2022. In the meantime, if you or someone you love is seeking help, is in crisis or may be suicidal, help is available (24/7) by calling any of the following numbers:

Axis Health System has a local team available to respond to a variety of emotional, mental health or substance use crisis situations. AHS offers a variety of services, including brief interventions, residential crisis stabilization, mental health counseling, substance use disorder treatment and a variety of other health services and referrals.

How many people currently staff our crisis line?

There are 12 trained behavioral health professionals who are at the other end of the Axis Care Hotline. They respond 24/7 to calls coming in by phone, televideo and in person. They provide support for immediate issues, initial crisis intervention, resource support and further care as needed. The Colorado Crisis Services hotline and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline also works to connect callers with the Axis Care Hotline to ensure that local community members get resources and support close to home.

Have we had an increase of calls since before COVID-19 started?

Historically, when we look at local call volume to the Axis Care Hotline, the typical average would be about 200 calls per month. Since March, we have seen a nearly 30% increase in calls, which aligns with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in our region and the resulting increase in economic, societal and health pressures that have followed. Monitoring national statistics and trends, we expect the volume of crisis calls to continue at this higher volume trend for the foreseeable future.