Arkansas Health Department first state agency to operate national suicide hotline

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) — The Arkansas Health Department is the first state agency to operate the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 with a full staff. 

The volunteer service that once controlled the hotline had problems maintaining a volunteer staff so the line was down for two years and people were being redirected to out of state operators. 

In 2016, we called the number, and we were put on the line with an operator in Tennessee who said they see an alarming number of calls from Arkansas due to there not being a line locally. 

“We probably get as many calls from the state of Arkansas as we do from Shelby County, which is where we are located,” the operator said. 

The Arkansas Department of Health said 78 percent of their suicide calls were going to Memphis and states like Ohio and New York. 

With other states getting that many calls from Arkansas, suicide advocates pushed legislators to get the local line up and running. The legislation passed in 2017 and the responsibility was handed over to the Arkansas Department of Health .

“We opened up at the Health Department Dec. 11. It is now taking the phone calls from that national hotline,” Joe Martin, injury and violence protection Chief said. 

The Arkansas Department of Health said they average 35-40 phone calls a day.

Suicide prevention program manager, Mandy Thomas, also answers the hotline. She said it could be anything from divorce to custody and we have quite a few youth that call.

Thomas said her and her staff have gone through 72 hours of training to handle these crucial conversations.

“They know the proper questions to ask like; are they in a safe place, can we get you the help that you need?” she said. 

She said having local operators provides better information for callers.

“We have the proper resources to give them so they can get better follow-up care,” she said. 

Thomas said since the hotline opened in December they've had to call 911 for two of their callers. Thankfully both people were saved and given the resources they needed to get help. 

If you or someone you know ever needs to reach out to the suicide hotline, here's the number to call, 1-800-273-TALK (8355). Here is a link to the hotline's website.

© 2018 KTHV-TV


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