GREEN BAY, Wis. — Some people call it the new 911 for mental health emergencies. A three-digit number, 988, launches Saturday to help people considering suicide or having a mental health emergency. Anyone with a Wisconsin area code calling that calls the new number will go to one call center in the state, and TMJ4 News went inside it to show you how it will work.
“How can I help you?” asks a counsel inside Wisconsin Lifeline.
This call center in Green Bay trained counselors to answer phone calls coming from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for the state. When July 16 hits Shelly Missall, program manager of Wisconsin Lifeline, says the center becomes the primary answering center for anyone who calls the number 988 in Wisconsin.
“Anybody who dials that number with a Wisconsin area code is going to get connected into our center. We are going to be their primary center. We are covering all 72 counties in Wisconsin,” said Missall.
The Wisconsin Lifeline Call Center was created during the pandemic. The goal is to make sure anyone calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline from Wisconsin talks to someone in Wisconsin. Right now, that happens about 90 percent of the time even though the center remains busy with calls.
“We are taking between 100 to 150 calls a day to this call center,” said Missall.
In May, the center answered 4,083 calls and that call volume has nearly quadrupled since January of 2021 when they took 1,148 calls. With volume growing at that pace the concern, not just in Wisconsin but the country, is to make sure there are enough people on hand to take the extra calls they are expecting when 988 launches.
TMJ4 News was at the call center during a slower time, so there were some empty desks, but Wisconsin Lifeline says they are full during peak times.
“We are using all of this space and we continue to ramp up and add more staff. So we are actually adding a second call center just down the hall from this one,” said Missall.
She says people are not just calling Wisconsin Lifeline who are contemplating suicide, but for all kinds of mental health help.
“It is a suicide and crisis line. Really the data, only about 30 percent of our calls pertain to suicide or homicide. So really 70 percent is really the other stuff: 'I’m having relationship issues, I’m having job issues. I”m having trouble coping with my mental health,'” said Missall.
And ultimately the goal is to help whoever calls the line in whatever way they need and hopefully keep the people from needing the police or inpatient hospital services.
That includes loved ones of someone who is mentally ill or needs help.
“There is a lot of support that exists in the state for mental health services. There’s inpatient facilities and things like crisis centers. Our goal is to prevent people from needing that,” said Missall. “We want to get to people before they need those more severe interventions. So we want to talk to people about what’s going on before it gets to that very imminent risk situation.”
Wisconsin Lifeline doesn’t just take calls; they also do about 500 follow-up calls a month.
Again, the number 988 does not go active until July 16. If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), to talk to someone 24 hours a day.