Note pad on a table with numerous descriptive words about mental health next to a cup of coffee

Report: Colorado suicide, mental health crisis lifeline system needs more work

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Eric Galatas

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(Colorado News Connection) Two years after the National 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline was introduced, a new report by the group Inseparable says Colorado and other states have work to do in order to fully staff call centers and connect people with the care they need when they need it most.

Colorado is answering just 75 percent of 988 calls, and lacks critical resources including care providers, beds and other facilities.

Vincent Atchity - CEO of Mental Health Colorado - said like many other states, Colorado is experiencing a workforce shortage.

PROMO Health - 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline - Navy Blue Horizontal

"Those people don't grow on trees," said Atchity. "So it is difficult to create a system that has got a really high response rate, and a really high connectivity rate."

Colorado got props in the report for its 988 wireless phone surcharge and other funding streams.

To ensure people in crisis get the help they need, Inseparable's report offers policy templates already at work in other states - that add mobile response units, crisis stabilization centers, and expanded call center capacity.

Angela Kimball, chief advocacy officer with Inseparable, said she hopes the report will spark conversations among local communities and policymakers.

She said not getting it right means people will go without help, or end up in emergency rooms, jail, turned onto the streets, or worse.

"There are enough states that have introduced mobile crisis response teams, and crisis stabilization services - in addition to the call centers," said Kimball, "that we know that with the right approach, people can get on the path to recovery."

The new 988 lifeline has helped divert people in crisis away from potentially deadly encounters with law enforcement.

Atchity said he encourages people to call 988 instead of 911 for mental health crises. He said if you're concerned about yourself or someone else, make the call, and a professional will evaluate the situation.

"And far better to place a crisis call," said Atchity, "and have everything de-escalated successfully in no time at all over a call, than to hesitate and experience worse outcomes."

If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.