West Virginia group backs 3-digit suicide hotline effort

PARKERSBURG — A state organization is supportive of a national three-digit suicide prevention hotline, a board member said on Friday.

“It will take a lot of the burden off 911 call centers to begin with,” said Jason Ferrebee, a member of the board of the American Federation for Suicide Prevention West Virginia Chapter and a local coordinator of the Out of Darkness Walk for suicide prevention in Parkersburg.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai Thursday said he will follow a recommendation for a three-digit hotline, suggesting that it be 988 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network. The current phone number is 1 800 273-8255 (TALK).

The state chapter has supported the national hotline for several years, Ferrebee said. Many of the 911 calls made by those in crisis are people needing counseling rather than a first-responder, Ferrebee said. Calls to a suicide prevention hotline gets them to a counselor with specialized suicide training quicker, he said.

Government is recognizing mental health is as important as physical health, both for the person and from a financial perspective, according to Ferrebee.

“There is a suicide epidemic in this country, and it is disproportionately affecting at-risk populations, including our Veterans and LGBTQ youth,” Pai said in a press release. “Crisis call centers have been shown to save lives.”

The FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau and Office of Economics and Analytics Thursday sent a report to Congress recommending the commission consider designating 988 as the 3-digit dialing code for the nationwide hotline. The report was required by the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018, which directed the commission to work in consultation with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the North American Numbering Council.

“Establishing this hotline is a simple step that will help save lives, and I applaud Chairman Ajit Pai’s decision to finally get this done,” Rep. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., said. “The reality is that when a veteran or anyone else is struggling with thoughts of suicide or having any mental health crisis, the last thing they are thinking about is looking up a number to call.”

A three-digit easy-to-remember number can provide someone who is struggling quick access to the help they need, he said.

“Crisis call centers save lives and at the end of the day that is what this three-digit code is all about,” McKinley said.

McKinley has advocated for a three-digit suicide prevention hotline for several years after learning of the concept in meetings with veterans. McKinley was a cosponsor of the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018, which passed Congress and was signed into law by President Trump.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of 163 crisis centers funded by the federal government. Calls are routed to the closest certified crisis center.

“I intend to move forward on this recommendation,” Pai, encouraging those facing a crisis to call 1-800-273-TALK in the meantime, said.

The Out of the Darkness Walk will be held 1 p.m. Sept. 28 at City Park. Registration is noon at the bandshell, Ferrebee said

After the opening ceremony, participants will walk from the park to Parkersburg High School and back.

Jess Mancini can be reached at jmancini@newsandsentinel.com.