Lifeline change could impact lifesaving technology in Arizona

Published: Apr. 23, 2021 at 5:57 AM MST|Updated: Apr. 22, 2021 at 6:29 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - 911 is the number people dial in a crisis but what about during a mental health crisis?

A new change coming to Arizona will shorten the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline from 1-800-273-8255 to just three numbers: 988.

”When someone’s in crisis trying to find and dial 10 numbers is very difficult, and you just need to be able to get that immediate help,” said Christina Bickelmann, executive director of NAMI of Southern Arizona.

This lifeline change will affect how people make calls in parts of Arizona.

Those living in area codes 520, 480, and 928 will need to dial all 10 digits to make phone calls, including local phone calls.

Starting Saturday, April 24, Arizonans living in those three area codes can expect a recorded warning that will alert them to the upcoming change.

”These changes happen, they’re a normal part of technological life and growth, this particular one is happening I think for a good purpose, we just all have to go with the flow and talk to our providers,” said Mark Clark, CEO of Pima Council on Aging.

A 911 dispatcher for more than a decade now said she’s excited about the upcoming change.

”It’s a line where someone can call to just talk to a crisis professional, and if that crisis professional feels like the police need to get involved, they’re direct them to us instead of the other way around where we’re filtering through these emergency calls,” said Ana Herrera, 911 Dispatcher for the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.

This change will require many devices to be reprogrammed or replaced including security systems and medical alert devices.

However, Bickelmann said this change is for the greater good.

”One in five people youth and adults have a mental illness or are affected with it in a year and if you think about our metropolitan area, our county, we have a million people so that’s 200,000 people that are likely affected one way or another by a mental illness,” Bickelmann said.

The change requiring 10-digit dialing will begin in October but this new 988 lifeline will not go live until July 2022.

The decision to shorten the National Suicide Prevention lifeline to three digits was approved federally last year to make it easier to remember during a crisis.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is still 1-800-273-8255.

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