UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. — Mental Health Awareness Month is coming to an end, but one local lifeline is continuing to grow: the 988 crisis lifeline number that launched last summer (a shorter version of the 10-digit suicide prevention hotline) has seen a 49% increase in calls, according to one local call center leader.
One of those callers is Danny Jablonski, 58, of University Place.
"All I saw was darkness," said Jablonski.
Jablonski spent several days alone with his thoughts this spring, recalling how his estranged family never agreed with his lifestyle and reliving the pain of trauma he'd endured. So when he learned his mother died, he was suddenly overcome with feelings of shame and guilt.
"Everything started to flow forth," he said.
Jablonski said a several-day mental health crisis ensued.
"I had separated from my job. I had quit school," he said.
While Googling suicide, he saw the link for a phone number he recognized: 988.
"I had heard about it on television," he said.
So he reached out using their chat function.
"I was talking to them like literally almost every morning," he said. "They kept diverting me... they literally, like, were my best friends. Because I was so lonely at the time.”
Devastatingly, a plan to end his life eventually materialized.
"He just kept saying, 'Please don't do it, please don't do it, please don't do it. And I hit 'end chat,' and drove down here," he said.
He drove several miles and parked his Kia over the train tracks, he recalled, and he waited.
"I saw the southbound train coming," said Jablonski.
But then, he said, "I thought about what the guy from 988 said. Danny, don't do it. Please don't do it. Your husband needs you, your dog needs you, we need you."
He continued, "I just turned the key on, backed the car up... I guess it's not gonna be today."
Now, he said he is doing much better. He said he has a new job and, more importantly, a new outlook on life.
“So much has changed in just one month," said Jablonski.
Now he wants others, especially older people, to know the 988 crisis hotline is always available to you if you feel lonely or just want to talk.
"I have a totally new direction in my life," said Jablonksi.
Michelle McDaniel, chief executive officer at Crisis Connections, where many 988 calls are routed, said her local call center has seen demand grow dramatically in the last 10 months.
"When we converted over to 988 last July, we immediately saw an increase in calls by about 49%," said McDaniel.
As a result, they’re looking to hire and retain more trained crisis counselors. She encourages interested people with a background in behavioral health to apply to work for them on the careers page of their website or volunteer through their volunteer application page.
"We’re looking for more workforce," she said. "To be honest, it’s a high burnout field.”
That workforce, however, does some very important work -- as in the case of Jablonski.
"988 saved my life. It plain saved my life," said Jablonski.
If you or a loved one need someone to talk to, you can call 988 any time, day or night.