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Illinois task force created to advance 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifetime

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(The Center Square) – The year-old national 988 suicide prevention lifeline is taking the next step in Illinois with a task force to handle growing pains.

Andy Wade, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness of Illinois, talked with The Center Square about the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline Workgroup Act, which is now in effect after being signed by the governor in late June.

Though 988 is a national initiative connecting those in distress with assistance, each state is charged with finding its own path to implementation. The workgroup brings together various stakeholders to take the lifeline program to the next level, Wade said.

The national mental health crisis, compounded during the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighted the need to intensify efforts to deal with the problem.

Wade said “988 is a reinvention of what used to be the suicide prevention hotline and is now essentially a reboot of the entire mental health crisis system in America.”

The act calls for examining the progress made since 988 started in Illinois last July, he said. Delivering these mental health services is a complex venture involving diverse agencies. The workgroup will help not only unify these services, Wade said, but also examine the progress gained so far.

“Most importantly, it will come up with some tangible recommendations that will strengthen our effort to build out the 988 system into a truly state-of-art continuum for the state of Illinois,” Wade said.

The focus will be not only what happens in the call centers, he said, but what kind of call centers are needed statewide and whether more should be added.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even before the pandemic, suicide rates had started to spike. The CDC reported an approximately 36% increase in suicides between 2000-2021. The 48,183 deaths seen in 2021 in the United States break down to one every 11 minutes. In Illinois the suicide-related death rate was 11% in 2021 when 1,454 persons took their own lives, the CDC website said.

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