JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — It’s three numbers that can connect you with life-saving help, 988, and it went live one year ago for people in crisis, giving them the opportunity to connect quickly with a mental health specialist.

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline was created to help anyone connect with resources quickly during a time of need without having to remember a 10-digit phone number. Since going live last July, call volumes in Missouri have gone up 70%. 

“It’s more of a crisis continuum of care than just a phone call,” Missouri’s 988 task force chair Lauren Moyer said.

For more than 365 days, a three-digit number has been helping thousands of Missourians. 

“We really want people to reach out when they are in crisis, and it’s really more than just if you’re in a suicidal crisis, any sort of mental health crisis, substance use crisis,” Missouri Behavioral Health Council crisis services manager Jason Romont said. 

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in Missouri, with more than a thousand people dying by suicide a year. Since going live last July, there have been more than 46,000 988 calls in Missouri. 

“We get a myriad of different types of calls,” Moyer said. “Maybe someone that is struggling with suicide, maybe a loved one that is reaching out for a resource for their loved one.”

The Missouri Department of Mental Health (DMH) oversees the state’s contract with the national hotline. Missouri will have six different calls centers. When you call 988, you will be routed to the closest call center based on your area code. The following health centers respond to different regions of the state. 

  • Behavioral Health Response – northeast and southeast Missouri, including St. Louis County and City
  • Burrell Behavioral Health – central and pieces of southwest Missouri, including Columbia and Branson 
  • CommCARE – northwest Missouri, including Jackson County 
  • Compass Health – throughout central Missouri, including Lake of the Ozarks, St. Charles County, and Cass County 
  • Ozark Center – southwest Missouri, including Joplin
  • Provident Behavioral Health – southwest Missouri, including Dade, Lawrence and Barry counties. 

But, if you don’t want to pick up the phone and call, you can text. 

“It can really be a wide range from offering resources to providing support and maybe even de-escalation,” Romont said. “The center that is working with you, may develop more of a long-term plan but you can call in whenever you need help, it’s available 24/7.”

According to the Missouri Behavorial Health Council, there were 46,647 988 calls in Missouri in the last year and 7,241 texts and 11,065 chats. In July 2022, when 988 went live, in Missouri there were 3,349 calls into the new hotline compared to 4,189 in June 2023. 

Even though 90% of the 988 calls are managed over the phone, sometimes a face-to-face conversation is necessary in hopes of decreasing arrests and hospitalizations. 

“If a mother is calling for their teenage son and she’s not quite sure what to do in the moment, that crisis response person can come to their home in the moment and help walk through what is causing this crisis to occur,” Moyer said. 

Moyer said it’s less than 1% of phone 988 phone calls that require 911 engagement or a trip to the emergency room. 

The governor recently approved $27 million in the state budget to continue implementing the 988 crisis hotline across Missouri. 

“Maybe someone is really escalated calling in to 988 and they need a little bit of de-escalation,” Romont said. “988 can connect them to community resources, maybe they need a little additional support and want some ongoing care, or want to see somebody regularly.”

Currently, when you call 988, you’re routed to a call center based on your area code, meaning it might not be answered locally. Moyer said at the national level, 988 is working on a plan so your call would instead be routed based on your location. 

In 2020, the National Suicide Lifeline received nearly 2.4 million crisis calls across the state. You can still reach the hotline by calling 1-800-273-8255. 

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