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988 aims to expand mental health crisis response

By Susan Collins-Smith
MSU Extension Service
The rollout of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline offers more hope to individuals dealing with mental-health-related distress. That population includes farmers and farm workers, who are among those most at risk for suicide and mental health distress.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, male agricultural workers have the fourth-highest suicide rate among men in all industries.
“Being at risk of losing the family farm or thinking you could lose it is a tremendous amount of stress,” said David Buys, health specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “There are legitimate reasons why people in agriculture are struggling: economics, weather, equipment issues, long hours, and difficult work, among other challenges.”
A national poll by the American Farm Bureau Federation in 2019 confirmed that about two in five farmers and farm workers reported experiencing increased stress levels and more mental health challenges since 2014.
Buys said the new 988 number is an important resource for all Mississippians, including farmers and farm workers who live and work in rural areas of the state. Many of those areas have limited access to mental health resources.
“Mississippi leaders and advocates for public health and mental health have rallied around the new 988 suicide crisis line resource,” Buys said. “The new number makes it easier to remember how to get in touch with someone if you or someone you know or love is in crisis.”
The 988 lifeline is a nationwide network of 200 crisis call centers operated and funded locally. It functions through the hotline formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and aims to strengthen and transform crisis services across the nation.
“Ideally, 988 will become as recognizable a resource for behavioral health and substance abuse crises as 911 is for medical crises,” said Wendy Bailey, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Mental Health.
“With time, we are hopeful 988 will reimagine the way crisis services are provided in the U.S. and in Mississippi, but we know this system transformation will not happen overnight,” she said. “We are grateful for everyone who is working to make the launch of 988 a success and look forward to the continuing work that we know is ahead of us.”
How 988 Works
Each call center is staffed by trained crisis counselors 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Anyone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts, substance use, mental health crisis, or other type of emotional distress can call, text, or chat with a counselor. Individuals who are concerned about a loved one or friend can also call the lifeline. Text and chat are also available.
Mississippi has two Lifeline call centers, which have one of the top-10 highest answer rates in the nation. When a call is placed, the caller will hear a greeting message while the call is routed to their nearest state call center based on area code. Once he or she answers, a counselor will listen to the caller to identify the problem, provide support, and share resources, if needed.
If the nearest call center is unable to take the call, it will be routed to a national backup call center. Crisis call centers provide services in English and Spanish and translation services for over 250 other languages. Currently, text and chat are available in English only.
What 988 Means
for Mississippi
Bailey said she is excited for what the launch of 988 means to Mississippi.
“Each life lost to suicide impacts families, friends, and entire communities,” she said. “988 is now another way to help us prevent these losses. Since the Lifeline began in 2005, it has served as an invaluable resource, providing free and confidential support to those in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.”
The Mississippi Department of Mental Health worked diligently in the last several years to increase the state’s Lifeline call center answer rate. Additionally, they have focused on improving access to the state’s two crisis service programs: the Mobile Crisis Response Teams and Crisis Stabilization Units.
“This includes having statewide mobile crisis response teams provided by the Community Mental Health Centers and enhancing the funding and training for those teams over the last year,” Bailey said. “We also are working to develop formal protocols for dispatching these teams when calls come to 988 and a face-to-face response is necessary.”
The Department of Mental Health has shifted funding from state hospitals to Community Mental Health Centers to make more crisis stabilization beds available and allow centers to make enhancements.
The state currently has 14 Crisis Stabilization Units and 184 beds with plans to add another 72 beds in the next two years, Bailey said.
For more information about 988, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website at
If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat
Mental Health First Aid
While 988 is essential to intervening in crises, Extension’s Mental Health First Aid training provides individuals with the skills to notice and to reach out to farmers who may not ask for help themselves – hopefully before an acute crisis strikes.
Mental Health First Aid offerings are part of the PROMISE Initiative, an opioid-misuse prevention program focused on enhancing mental health among rural populations, especially agricultural producers. PROMISE, which stands for “Preventing Opioid Misuse In the SouthEast,” is led by a multidisciplinary team of Extension professionals. For more information about Mental Health First Aid training, visit the MSU Extension website at or contact your local Extension office.
“With this program, we are continuing to work on reducing the stigma around seeking services and educating local professionals about the unique challenges that our agricultural communities face,” Buys said.