Lawmakers push to change suicide hotline number to 3 digits

Push for 3-digit National Suicide Hotline

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A national effort to change the 1-800 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number to a three-digit number is being dubbed the “911 for the Brain.”

Over the past decade, this country has seen an increase of suicides.

The Memphis VA has been a leader in suicide prevention efforts.

One army veteran says he moved from Louisville to Memphis for life-changing medical care after reaching the lowest point in his life.

“I started having anxiety attacks,” said Ricky Daniel, Sr., veteran.

Ricky Daniel’s story is similar to many other people.

“I mean it was a challenge for me to get out of my house and go take a walk,” said Daniel.

Where a series of events, like major back surgery, his 31-year marriage ending in divorce and no other family around led him to.

“I started getting all types of thoughts. I wasn't going to be able to work. I was going to be homeless,” said Daniel. “It just got to the point where for some crazy reason I thought about taking my life.”

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, in 2017 more than 47,000 Americans died by suicide and 1.4 million adults attempted it.

In 2018 alone, 2.2 million people called the National suicide Prevention Hotline for help.

A number made popular by rapper Logic, who named his 2017 hit song after the it; 1-800-273-TALK.

Now there's an effort from the White House and the FCC to shorten the hotline number to just three digits, potentially 988.

“We know it works. We also know a 10-digit number is harder to remember in those times of crisis than a three-digit number,” said Dr. R. Eileen Todd, VA Hospital suicide prevention program.

Dr. R. Eileen Todd with the Suicide Prevention Program at the Memphis VA Hospital supports the effort.

But she says here in Memphis you can also call 911 for help if someone is suicidal.

MPD has a Crisis Intervention team. trained officers who can respond to mental crisis events.

But Dr. Todd says it's not just having a means to seek help.

“It's not just a mental health problem, and not something where we can wait ‘til they come to us for a crisis, but we reach out to them,” said Todd.

It's why everyone in just about every single part of this hospital is trained to ask, “have you ever had suicidal thoughts?”

“It is still an unfortunate myth that people have, where they feel like if they talk to someone about suicide that it is going to put the thought in their head or compel them to act,” said Todd.

This Army vet says it was the constant interaction by staff at the Memphis VA, and extensive suicide prevention program that likely saved his life.

On average, 20 veterans lose their life to suicide every day and 16 are not connected to the VA.

This is why the Memphis VA has so many community outreach programs to talk about this issue.

Remember, if you’ve ever had suicidal thoughts you can call the lifeline number. They will direct you to the closest licensed mental health facility.

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