A lifeline: Free mental health hotline serves thousands of Oklahomans

By: - November 9, 2023 5:29 am

A caller prepares to dial 988, a mental health hotline for people in crisis. Since its launch in Oklahoma, thousands of residents have asked for help. (Photo by Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

A new free mental health hotline fielded tens of thousands of calls from Oklahomans during its first year.

The national 988 hotline launched in Oklahoma in July 2022, and operators have answered 50,000 calls for help, reports from the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services show.

The hotline is a federally funded program designed to connect a caller with mental health treatment options. Operators can also dispatch a mobile crisis team of professionals to respond.

“We can save the lives of hundreds of Oklahomans if we reach people proactively and when they are in crisis,” said Bonnie Campo, a spokesperson for the state agency. “As suicide numbers continue to rise, it’s our job to offer a lifeline, connect people to care and reduce the stigma associated with asking for help.”

Last year, 872 Oklahomans died from suicide, she said.

In addition to helping people suffering from suicidal thoughts, 988 operators also connected people with mental health treatment options. Some callers also reached out seeking help with anxiety, depression and substance abuse.

“We want to help people during crisis, and also before they reach crisis,” Campo said.

Reports show some people who called the hotline followed up with treatment after the call, but the agency can only track progress for those who use state-funded mental health services. Since it launched, nearly 4,000 callers received help from a mobile team and nearly 5,000 continued treatment after calling.

The greatest challenge for the agency has been to raise awareness about the hotline, Campo said. The agency has “spoken with hundreds of groups” and partnered with University of Oklahoma football quarterback Dillon Gabriel and Miss Oklahoma’s Sunny Day to promote it.



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Mindy Ragan Wood
Mindy Ragan Wood

Mindy covers the legislature for Oklahoma Voice. Her areas of focus include infrastructure, municipal government policies, and human services with an emphasis on the needs of intellectually vulnerable and physically challenged adults.