Lawmakers propose easier suicide prevention hotline number

Photo courtesy of the New York State Senate
Sen. David Carlucci, at podium, is surrounded by mental health professionals and other supporters of his bill that would make the state’s suicide hotline in New York 9-8-8, because is easy to remember and simple to dial.

New York’s suicide prevention hotline would be changed to a three-digit number, 988, if efforts to pass legislation (S.6833/A.8778) are successful.

There is currently a national suicide prevention lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK, but leaders think that changing the number to resemble an emergency service number like 911 will make it easier for people to remember, lead to them reaching out faster, and ultimately save lives. Congress and the Federal Communications Commission have previously recommended changing the hotline to 988, but bill sponsor Sen. David Carlucci, D-New City, pointed out that it could take years to be implemented.

“In reality, this could be done today,” Carlucci said. “All it takes is for phone companies to flip the switch and have 988 dial into those call centers.”

Nationally, in 2017, there were 1.4 million suicide attempts and 47,000 deaths by suicide. New York has one of the lowest suicide rates in the country, but there are still hundreds of suicide deaths every year across the state.

“As a state we are working diligently to bring resources and help to our communities that are most in need, like the LGBT community, veterans, Latinas, and rural residents,” said Assemblywoman Nathalia Fernandez, one of the bill’s co-sponsor in the Assembly. “This is a no-brainer. We have 911, we have 411, why not make this as accessible and easy to dial?”

Research by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in 2017, found almost 80 percent of callers to the suicide hotline reported that follow-up calls stopped them from killing themselves.

Mental health advocates from various New York state organizations voiced their support for this legislation. Lucille Ettere, board member of National Alliance on Mental Illness-New York State, lost her daughter Nicole to suicide in September 2017, after five suicide attempts that summer.

“I cannot help but wonder if any of [Nicole’s] hospitalizations or her ultimate actions could have been avoided if, when she was alone, she had a three-digit number to call to help her navigate each crisis and prevent future attempts,” Ettere said. “Though my family will never know the answer, we want to make sure other families do not need to ask these ‘what if’ questions.”

Other representative from the Mental Health Association in New York State, New York Association Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s, and United Way of New York are all urging the Legislature to pass this bill.

The bill is currently in the Energy and Telecommunications Committee. If passed, the law would take effect immediately. A same-as bill in the Assembly (A.8778), sponsored by Carmen Arroyo, D-Bronx, is currently in the Corporations, Authorities And Commissions Committee.