In the U.S. alone, suicide rates have increased by roughly 4% in the last year and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are no indications that numbers will start to decline. However, the implementation of 988 as the new national mental health crisis hotline number provides an advance in suicide prevention.

On July 16, the 988 number went live replacing the original nine digit hotline in hopes of making it easier for people experiencing a mental health crisis to receive adequate and proper assistance.

According to an article from the New York Times, the new system allows for states to “raise money for 988 the same way they do for 911” and in turn will allow for the continuous advancement of mental health support across the country.

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So where does Arizona fit in all of this? Currently, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), is working with other state and federal partners to ensure that the transition to the new number is not only seamless but also that new measures are put into place to strengthen crisis response time and resources.

“We were one state that was well positioned for this transition to 988,” said Heidi Capriotti, the AHCCCS public information officer.

With an already “robust” crisis system in place, the implementation of 988 has led to one cohesive crisis system as of the beginning of October.

“We have a statewide crisis system and one of the operators of the 988 number happens to be one of the contractors for the state crisis response system,” Capriotti said. “They will be the sole operator of the state system and that meshes really well between the 988 national number and our state numbers so that one vendor, which happens to be Solari Inc., will be the statewide crisis vendor.”

Solari is a crisis and human services organization that is helping to improve crisis response systems. According to its website “you’ll never wait longer than 10 seconds to talk with us.”

“It’s really just one number that people can think of, and it’ll feed into the statewide crisis line, so people can get services,” said Blythe FitzHarris, Mercy Care Chief Clinical Officer.

Mercy Care, is a non-profit organization focusing on integrated mental health care and a partner with AHCCCS. In an interview with FitzHarris, she emphasized Mercy Care’s desire to meet Arizonans where they are and show them the resources that are available. Simplifying the crisis hotline follows that same idea in making mental health resources more palatable and accessible for Arizonans.

One of the hopes of strengthening Arizona’s crisis response system is that other issues Arizonans are facing can also be addressed. “So, we look at it completely, holistically, and in every demographic of people to try to meet that need,” said Scott Hall, a City of Phoenix Special Projects Administrator, when asked about how the City of Phoenix specifically is working to address mental health crises and other issues in Arizona.

It comes down to tackling each facet of mental health in the hope that everything comes together to provide proper support for people who need it. The 988 number is active now and anyone is able to call or text the number at any time to get into contact with a crisis operator.