988 Wisconsin Lifeline Marks First Anniversary

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) today is recognizing the positive impact the 988 Wisconsin Lifeline has had in the year since the service began taking calls, texts, and online chats. From July 2022 through June 2023, the 988 Wisconsin Lifeline received 91,834 contacts for mental health and substance use support.

“The 988 Wisconsin Lifeline is a critically important resource for Wisconsinites to be able to talk to someone when they need to,” said Gov. Tony Evers. “We are proud of the work the 988 Wisconsin Lifeline team has done over the last year to provide hope, help, and support for tens of thousands of Wisconsinites experiencing mental and behavioral health challenges.”

July 16 marks one year since the national transition from the 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Wisconsinites made a total of 72,487 calls in the first year for an average of 5,900 calls per month. The remainder of the 91,834 contacts were texts to 988 and online chats through 988lifeline.org. Over 98% of the contacts are resolved through the conversation, reducing pressures on the state’s system of emergency services for mental health and substance use concerns.

Wisconsin’s 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline support center, known as the 988 Wisconsin Lifeline, covers the entire state and is managed by Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin. Staff are trained to help people reduce stress, provide emotional support, and connect people with local resources. Contacts are kept confidential between the person and counselor unless there is an imminent danger for the person or others.

Most of the contacts from Wisconsin-based phone numbers and locations are handled in state. If the 988 Wisconsin Lifeline is unable to take the call, text, or chat, the contact automatically is routed to a backup support center, which may be located outside of Wisconsin. The 988 Wisconsin Lifeline is hiring more staff to increase the number of contacts handled in state. A new remote work option that allows staff to be located anywhere in Wisconsin is expected to help in recruiting and retaining staff.

“The 988 Wisconsin Lifeline staff work all hours to assure no one in Wisconsin has to carry their worries alone,” said Kirsten Johnson, DHS secretary-designee. “We are grateful for their dedicated service and look forward to continuing to partner with them to strengthen this life-saving service, making mental health and substance use care more accessible to all state residents.”

The 988 Wisconsin Lifeline is funded through a combination of federal grants managed by DHS. Gov. Evers declared 2023 the Year of Mental Health and in recognition of the need for a sustainable funding source for this service, included more than $3 million for the 988 Wisconsin Lifeline in his 2023-2025 state budget proposal. The Republican-led Joint Committee on Finance cut this funding from the plan submitted to and passed by the legislature.

The 2023-2025 state budget signed by Gov. Evers earlier this month supports ongoing efforts to transform Wisconsin’s system for mental health and substance use emergencies into a network of services focused on ensuring the right care is available at the right time in the right place. Ten million dollars has been set aside to establish up to two crisis urgent care and observation centers. These centers would act like emergency departments for behavioral health needs.

DHS has also invested in other new services to ensure there is someone to talk to, someone to respond, and a safe place to go. A statewide peer-run warmline will offer support from people who have experienced mental health and substance use emergencies. This phone service is expected to be available this summer. Mobile crisis response teams provide care when and where a person needs it in their community, whether at home, work, school, or another location. Regional crisis stabilization facilities are beginning to open to offer an alternative to hospitalization for adults who need the safety and security of facility-based care, but not intensive inpatient services. There are three facilities open around the state that provide similar services to youth, with a fourth one expected to open later this year.

The DHS website features more information about these investments in crisis services and the 988 Wisconsin Lifeline, including materials people and organizations can use to raise awareness of the service.