‘That listening ear:’ 988 teams provide help, support in mental health crises

Heart of Florida United Way manages 988 in Central Florida

ORLANDO, Fla. – For more than 15 years, people across the nation have connected to suicide prevention and mental health crisis care by calling the national suicide prevention lifeline. Last summer, the 800 number was simplified to 988 — making it easier for people to access immediate care.

“I’ve been practicing for about 5 years in the mental health field,” said Nicole Benton, crisis services manager for Heart of Florida United Way.

Benton found a passion for the mental health field while going through her own challenges.

“From my own personal experience with mental health, I know how important it is to just be able to have that support, have that listening ear,” Benton said.

She’s among the team of specialists at the nonprofit. Heart of Florida United Way is part of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number 988.

“I know that it’s challenging it’s sometimes downright scary to call in and to talk to a stranger but know that we’re trained to help you specifically,” Benton said.

Catherine Rea, vice president of 211 and 988 services for Heart of Florida United Way, said in 2022 they handled more than 9,300 calls — adding that calls have gone up since July of 2022 when the national number was simplified to 988.

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“That number was set aside to provide easy-to-remember three-digit dialing for crisis intervention and suicide prevention services,” Rea said. “We’re running about 35% to 40% increase right now. People are now I think becoming aware of the services really always been available.”

According to the nonprofit, while the calls have increased, their intervention numbers remain low.

“Less than 3% of our contacts result in a referral to a mobile crisis team or to a 911 service so very low numbers require intervention,” Rea said.

[RELATED: How to get mental health help in Central Florida]

It’s a resource that’s saving lives, and one Benton is thankful to be a part of.

“Sometimes your mind can play tricks on you and make you think that you’re all alone and so knowing that you have a trusted person who can advise you and who can help you through specific challenges, I was able to receive that and it was something that I wanted to be able to give back,” Benton said.

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About the Author:

Carolina Cardona highlights all Central Florida has to offer in her stories on News 6 at Nine. She joined News 6 in June 2018 from the Telemundo station in Philadelphia.