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988 launches Saturday as new suicide prevention hotline

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Posted at 6:42 PM, Jul 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-13 12:53:55-04

TAMPA, Fla. — A new suicide prevention hotline launches nationally Saturday. A call or text to 988 will connect callers to trained professionals ready to help.

Ken Gibson is the Senior Director of Marketing and Public Relations for the crisis Center of Tampa Bay. He says the call center that answered previous calls for help will still be the ones picking up the phone.

"I think the easier number makes sense. Because when somebody is in that heightened emotional state, to be able to have something that's just easy to remember, versus 800 number, 988 is much easier to remember," said Gibson.

The FCC dedicated 988 as the new suicide prevention hotline in summer of 2020.

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline says 24,601 calls came into Florida the first three months of 2022. Gibson says Hillsborough County calls vary by week.

"It really depends on the week, you know, lower week in terms of number of calls might be, you know, 50. And then on a higher week, it might be 100 calls per week that are specific to suicide," he said.

Of the statewide calls in the first three months of the year, 78% were answered in-state. Reports show the rest were routed to centers in other parts of the country.

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The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline says many of the rural parts of the states don't have adequate funding to support its call centers. Additionally, when the call volume is high, that could mean longer wait times and an answer from a national center, not local. The non-profit says Florida callers often wait two to three times longer when they are rerouted, many times hanging up.

Still, they report Florida saw a 61% increase in calls from 2016 to 2020.

When 988 launches, Vibrant Emotional says centers should anticipate a larger call volume.

Crisis Center of Tampa Bay is already anticipating that growth.

"We're actually recruiting for more people to work in the contact center. And that does take some time to get somebody to the point where they're ready to take a suicide call. But we have ongoing recruitment and training in place to be able to have be able to bring more people on to address this increased need that's gonna be coming in," said Gibson.