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With 988 crisis hotline set to launch Saturday, Burrell prepares for a spike in calls

A man sits on a bench
Mabel Amber
A man sits on a bench

As of Saturday, anyone in a mental health crisis can call 988 to reach help.

The new 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline rolls out Saturday, July 16.

The service, run by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, helps people experiencing a mental health crisis to access care. Instead of having to dial the more cumbersome 1-800-273-TALK, callers will dial 988— although the longer number will remain active for a while longer.

Burrell Behavioral Health, headquartered in Springfield, receives calls from the lifeline. Burrell’s Crisis Services director Shalaine Periman said they’ve been preparing for about a year for an increase in call volume.

“We have been doubling our staff on shifts, so we run anywhere from three to five staff,” she said. “We have a state-of-the-art phone system. We are expecting our call volume to triple.”

Burrell’s crisis line currently receives about 1,400 calls per month, she said.

Periman said they’re planning for callers to not have any wait time.

In the last comprehensive study done on Greene County's mental health, local providers reported that 29.1 percent of outpatient diagnoses were Major Depressive Disorder, also known as depression. Springfield's rates for depression and suicide were higher than the national average. (See our reporting on that data here.)

NAMI keeping an eye on resources, staffing

Stephanie Appleby, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in southwest Missouri, hopes the greater accessibility will lead to more people seeking help.

But she worries there won’t be enough resources to meet demand.

“I am someone who is a suicide attempt survivor, so living as a peer and also being in the role that I’m in here at our agency, I see both sides of it,” she said. "And I think it’s frustrating because we just don’t have the resources to accommodate the need.”

She said the pandemic prompted more people to talk about mental illness and to seek help, which is good, but the system got bogged down.

More mental health providers are needed, she said, as well as longer inpatient stays and more beds.

But she’s grateful that progress is being made in normalizing mental health.

“Because it’s very helpful to feel included and feel like you matter and feel like your disease is not a behavioral issue but is just something that is very serious, so I’m proud that this is happening,” said Appleby.

Periman hopes 988 will eventually be as familiar to people as 911. She believes the new three-digit number will alleviate the workload for 911 dispatchers and will result in more people reaching out for help—and also avoiding jail.

“If you’re in a mental health crisis, where do you look? Most people don’t know,” she said. “There’s no phone books anymore, so a lot of times that’s when 911 gets called.”

Phone resources for someone in crisis

Burrell’s 1-800 Crisis Lines will remain open. Those are 1-800-494-7355 in southwest and Missouri and 1-800-395-2132 in central Missouri.

And NAMI has a warm line, which it describes on its website as “non-judgmental and peer operated, providing an understanding voice and support for persons living with mental illness."

That number is 417-864-3676 or toll-free 877-535-4337 and is staffed every day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.