LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) — Arkansas was one of two states without a suicide prevention call center affiliated with the national hotline for almost two years.
Tanya Phillips, with ARSuicidePrevention.org, said the Arkansas Crisis Center quit taking calls due to funding shortfalls in 2016. But now, the Arkansas Department of Health is taking those phone calls, thanks to a law passed in 2017.
"There were a lot of people that weren't being helped. Their calls weren't being answered,” Phillips said.
Phillips noticed a major problem with the hotline two years ago when she learned phone calls were not being answered.
"I picked up the phone and called it and it went straight to voicemail. I called it 13 times in a 10-hour period and each time it went straight to voicemail,” she said.
So she made it her mission to make sure somebody would answer on the other end. When it was reported, the calls were forwarded to the call center in Memphis and other surrounding states.
"It put a burden on the other states. They were answering not only their own phone calls but ours as well, which is approximately one thousand phone calls per month,” Phillips said.
She said Arkansas’s suicide numbers reflected the calls not being answered. According to Arkansas Suicide Prevention, Arkansas ranks tenth in the nation in suicides per capita.
“We went up significantly. So, we were very concerned and we wanted to make sure that Arkansas was able to answer those phone calls,” Phillips said.
During the 2017 legislative session, both the House and the Senate voted that the Health Department must provide a suicide prevention lifeline for all of Arkansas.
"It passed with 80 percent in the House. Unanimously in the Senate,” Don Berry with the Arkansas Veterans Coalition said.
Berry said this will also save dozens of veterans lives when they call.
"Not all our veterans may want to self-identify as a veteran. They may not want a military supervisor finding out. By being able to go and not identify themselves as a veteran, puts them into the civilian side of the house,” he said.
Suicide prevention is Arkansas Veterans Coalition’s number one priority. Phillips said she hopes this lifeline will encourage more Arkansans to reach out.
"If you're struggling. You need help. We encourage to call. We have a call center, we're answering,” Phillips said.
Arkansas is now the only health department in the country that has a fully government-funded suicide prevention lifeline.
If you or someone you know needs help, you can call the suicide prevention hotline at 800-273-TALK. You will be connected to someone locally.