“It’s about helping more people and reducing stigma”

State health officials and crisis call centers are preparing to launch the 988 suicide prevention hotline next month, which advocates say will help more people and reduce the stigma surrounding suicide.

Starting July 16, the three-digit phone number 988 will become the national dialing code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Switching to a three-digit number means callers who might be having suicidal thoughts or are dealing with emotional distress will be able to call the easy-to-remember number and be connected to qualified counsellors.

“People don’t hesitate to dial 911 for medical emergencies, and we hope people remember 988 and don’t think twice about it for mental health and suicide prevention,” said Debbie Helms. , of the Samaritans of Merrimack Valley, at the Herald on Tuesday.

“It’s about helping more people and reducing the stigma around suicide,” she added. “The long-term hope is that we can start to reduce suicide deaths because we will have more call takers and more resources at our fingertips.”

The state Department of Public Health is working with a wide range of partner organizations and health care providers on the transition from the current 10-digit number (1-800-273-8255) to 988.

These partners include: Call2Talk, Samaritans of Cape Cod and the Islands, Samaritans, Inc., Samaritans of Merrimack Valley, Samaritans Southcoast, Department of Mental Health, MassHealth, 911, Mass Behavioral Health Partnership which oversees emergency service providers and Mass Coalition for Suicide Prevention.

The easier-to-remember number will widen access for callers, meaning staff and volunteers are needed in call centers more than ever.

“Hiring is a big effort, and it’s even harder in today’s workforce,” Helms said, but noted that his center has hired almost all of its line-of-work specialists. crisis. “Preparing for this is a huge undertaking for every state.”

Moving to 988 does not mean the current 800 number (1-800-273-8255) for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is going away. Dialing either number will route callers to the same services regardless of the number they are using.