Rising volume of phone calls to National Suicide Prevention Lifeline prompts Congress to adopt shorter number

WEST VIRGINIA (WOAY) — Between 2018 and 2021, phone calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline began to steadily increase across the state, rising from around 6,500 calls to more than 10,000.

While calls may increase, however, the suicide rate is not showing a corresponding increase, a startling but hopeful finding at the height of a global pandemic.

“We are very pleased that the number has not particularly increased here in West Virginia as we feared during the pandemic,” says Sheila Moran, director of communications and marketing at First Choice Services.

“Certainly one of the things we hope happens is that people reach out and get help, and the fact that our calls have increased so much over the past two years is what who tells us,” she says.

Beyond the hotline, the support that different organizations are offering across the state to prevent suicide goes a long way, but Congress is now addressing the need to prevent the problem even further.

To do this, they are implementing a shorter phone number for faster access to the National Lifeline and making it not just for those with suicidal thoughts, but crises of all kinds.

“The national suicide number is, of course, 1-800-273-TALK, and that number will continue to be available, but this summer an additional number, a much easier to remember number, 9-8- 8, will become available, so just as 9-1-1 is so easy to remember, everyone will remember 988,” Moran says.

The 988 phone number change will be essential not only to alleviate the growing volume of calls to the lifeline, but also to prevent deaths and stop the criminalization of mental illness.

The number 988 for suicide prevention will come into effect from July this year.

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