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Call center expands to help those in emotional distress

Lately, Wisconsin callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, are much more likely to speak with a Wisconsin- based counselor, with the opening of a new Wisconsin call center, funded by a grant from the Department of Health Services (DHS).

“No one should ever have to be alone when they feel hopeless,” said DHS secretary-designee Andrea Palm. “Adding capacity to handle Wisconsin calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, is part of our ongoing effort to ensure the right supports are available at the right time, for people in emotional distress. It’s about offering hope and promoting healing. By connecting, listening and directing help to those who need it, we can reduce pain and save lives.”

Known as the Wisconsin Lifeline, the new call center is managed by Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin, under a $2 million annual grant. It accepts calls originating from communities not covered by one of four existing Wisconsin- based call centers, in the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network.

All the call centers accept calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We value the efforts of the four Wisconsin call centers, that have been part of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for many years,” said Palm. “They have done an incredible job serving their communities. Their success in deescalating crisis situations and decreasing emotional stress, paved the way for the Wisconsin Lifeline.”

It’s shown that a local connection results in a better outcome, and Palm says Wisconsin-based counselors, have the expertise and linkages to local resources that callers need.

“Now, more than ever, it is critical that all Wisconsin callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline have access to Wisconsin-based counselors,” said Palm, “especially as more people seek help, due to the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a network of more than 170 call centers around the country. Callers are routed to a member call center near them, based on their phone number. In most cases, calls that are not answered by a local call center, roll over to a national backup system.

However, in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Lifeline serves as backup to the four locally funded call centers, further ensuring calls are answered by Wisconsin-based counselors.

The Wisconsin Lifeline began answering calls in August. In its first week of operation, the percent of Wisconsin calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline that were answered in-state, climbed to 85 percent, well above the national benchmark of 70 percent.

Prior to the launch of the Wisconsin Lifeline, Wisconsin’s in-state answer rate topped out at 30 percent, because of the large volume of calls coming from areas outside of the responsibility of the four locally funded call centers.

The Wisconsin Lifeline places Wisconsin in a good position, to handle the predicted surge in calls, when 988 becomes the new nationwide number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by July 2022.

For now, anyone wishing to connect to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, should call 1-800-273-8255. The call is free and confidential.

Everyone can help prevent suicide, by learning the warning signs and the five action steps for helping someone who may be suicidal.