WEST VIRGINIA (WOAY) – Between 2018 and 2021, phone calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline started steadily increasing throughout the state, rising from around 6,500 calls to over 10,000.
While the calls may be going up, the rate of suicide, however, is not showing a corresponding increase. It’s a surprising, yet hopeful finding during the peak of a worldwide pandemic.
“We are very glad that number has not particularly increased here in West Virginia like we feared it would during the pandemic,” says Sheila Moran, Director of Communication and Marketing at First Choice Services.
“Certainly, one of the things we hope is happening is that people are reaching out and getting help, and the fact that our calls are so much increased over the past couple of years is what indicates that to us,” she says.
Beyond the hotline, support organizations across the state offer many resources, but Congress is now addressing the need to prevent the issue even further.
To do this, they’re implementing a shorter phone number for quicker access to the National Lifeline. It will be not only for those experiencing suicidal thoughts, but crises of any kind.
“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 like it’s so easy to remember 9-1-1, everyone is going to remember 988,” Moran says.
The 988-phone number change will be critical in not only mitigating the increasing call volume to the lifeline, but preventing deaths and stopping the criminalization of mental illness.
The 988-suicide prevention number will be enacted starting in July.