Kentucky expands suicide prevention services as cases increase

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Nadia Ramlagan/Kentucky News Connection

FRANKFORT, Ky. – To keep pace with the growing demand for mental-health resources, the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services has added another accredited agency to serve as National Suicide Prevention Lifeline call centers in the state.

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Calls to the Lifeline jumped by more than 3% last year, compared to the same period in 2019 – as Kentuckians struggle with economic stress, personal loss and other consequences of COVID-19.

Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Eric Friedlander said Pathways, Inc. – a community mental-health center – has completed the accreditation process and is now providing call-center services to Kentuckians.

“Kentucky residents call these suicide-prevention lines 350 times a week,” said Friedlander. “So, when someone’s in crisis, they need assistance now. It can’t wait.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mental health among U.S. adults is worsening as the pandemic drags on.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a network of crisis centers with free and confidential support to people considering suicide or in emotional distress. It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The number is 1-800-273-8255.

Friedlander added that certain populations, such as people who are elderly and isolated, are at higher risk during the pandemic – but most experts expect the need for mental-health resources to remain high well after the crisis ends, especially in regions of the state that already saw high suicide rates before the novel coronavirus.

“We’re starting to roll out the vaccine, which is fantastic,” said Friedlander. “But once we get through this, sometimes folks react later to that stress. So we really have to be on guard, across all our communities.”

One study by researchers at Ohio State University found suicide rates in the Commonwealth have surpassed the national average over the past two decades.

Beginning next summer, Friedlander said a new national three-digit number will go live, with the goal of even easier access to mental health and suicide prevention resources — much like calling 911.