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Potential update to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Posted at 10:43 PM, Dec 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-19 23:43:59-05

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The Federal Communications Commission recently approved an update to the National Suicide Prevention number. While many like the change, some in Nebraska are concerned about the staffing to answer the calls especially if the calls increase...and the increase in funding that may be needed.

"About 13,000 calls came to Nebraska through the lifeline last year," said Jennifer Moffett of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention of Nebraska. The current number is 1-800-273-8255 but could become 988.

"If we have something similar for a suicide crisis line (like 911) it's going to be much more accessible for the general public and those people in need," said Julia Hebenstreit of the Kim Foundation.

The change can help those in crisis who may not be able to remember the 1-800 number during a stressful time. Deaths by suicide continues to happen in our community as 86 people ended their lives so far in 2019 according to the Kim Foundation. That number comes from the Omaha Police Department, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, and Sarpy County Sheriff's Office.

It's up to lawmakers to pass it, but questions remain on if Nebraska is ready for the switch. "If the volume increases significantly again, and it has over the last several years, that the call centers may not be able to support as well as they do today," said Moffett.

According to A.F.S.P. Nebraska answered 72% of lifeline calls made within the state in 2018. The other 28% were answered by a back up national call center to help with call volume. With a shorter number that's easier to remember, that could mean more calls for those centers who have already seen a 70% increase since 2016 according to A.F.S.P.

"We need to make sure that our crisis centers are fully staffed and fully supported and fully funded," said Moffett.

Suicide prevention groups continue to push for more funding from the government and other sources for the update, which they say was needed.

If the House & Senate pass the bill, and the President signs it, it's estimated the change will take about 18 months to complete.

In the meantime, if you or someone you know is in need of help, call 1-800-273-8255.