Lexington 988 call center starts volunteer program amid rising number of calls

Lexington 988 call center starts volunteer program amid rising number of calls
Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 4:47 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - This Suicide Prevention and Awareness month, mental health experts say Kentuckians are becoming more aware of a key resource.

Marcie Timmerman with Mental Health America of Kentucky says the new suicide and crisis lifeline, 988, is easy to memorize and, in turn, is being increasingly used.

“We had 55,362 calls in our first year with 988 in Kentucky,” said Timmerman, who serves as executive director for the Lexington-based organization.

Calls to 988 from Lexington and sixteen surrounding counties are answered by New Vista.

“Our 988 crisis call takers are the first responders on the phone,” said Darcy Miller, a regional director of emergency response and client engagement for New Vista.

Darcy Miller supervises the call center and says those responders keep getting busier - they’re on pace to pick up the phone more than 5,000 times this year.

“We’ve seen about a 19 percent increase in 988 calls,” Miller said.

So, Miller says they’re hiring more staff members, and they’re also bringing in volunteers to help manage the volume of calls.

“We’re at about seven volunteers, and we’re hoping to get 40,” said Miller.

She hopes that expansion will allow them to text and chat with those in need. It’s a function that experts say is being used more by teens and men over the age of 40.

“You don’t always want to say it out loud what’s going on, or you’re not always in a space where that’s okay,” Timmerman said. “You can get help wherever you are (with the text feature), and I think that’s really beneficial.”

While the numbers trending upward signal that thousands of Kentuckians need help, these mental health professionals are encouraged that people are seeking it out.

“Treating your mental health is just as important as treating your physical health,” Miller said. “If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts - give us a call. That’s what we’re here for.”

You can call or text 988 or go online to use its chat feature.