Roanoke health leaders explain how dialing just three numbers could help save a life

Starting July 16, people can call ‘988′ to be connected to the national suicide crisis hotline

Starting July 16, people can call ‘988′ to be connected to the national suicide crisis hotline

ROANOKE, Va. – Most don’t hesitate to call 911 when they need help, but when it comes to calling the suicide hotline, Roanoke Resource Clinical Coordinator Courtney Sandras-Gaut said some second guess themselves.

The National Suicide Hotline has been around for 17 years, but starting July 16 people in crisis will be able to call using three simple numbers: 988.

“‘Suicide prevention’ can be scary to say,” Sandras-Gaut said. “Being able to say, ‘I’m calling 988 for some assistance’ I think will decrease some of the stigma.”

Congress passed legislation back in 2020, declaring 988 as the new national suicide crisis number, but Carilion Clinic’s psychiatry and behavioral medicine chair Dr. Robert Trestman says finding a way to merge it with existing state and local systems was tricky.

“Can we build on that so that rather than only providing some limited hotline support for people in acute crisis?” Trestman said. “How do we build a coherent system to link up resources nationally as well as locally?”

Trestman said the new number is intended to be a backup to local systems, who operate during normal business hours.

“People don’t conveniently have a psychiatric crisis at two in the afternoon,” he said.

Local mental health service, Roanoke Resource, is hoping to use the new 988 number to help people in immediate crisis, and then use those calls to improve upon treatment plans.

“I think just letting people know you’re not alone,” Sandras-Gaut said. “Reach out, get that assistance and there’s a whole team of people in Roanoke that are wanting to help you.”

Trestman said that there is still room to improve. “I’m hoping in many ways it shows up more clearly the weaknesses in the current, broken system.”

Establishing 988 as the national crisis line is a step in the right direction, but Sandras-Gaut says there is always more than can be done for the mental health community.

About the Author:

Abbie Coleman officially joined the WSLS 10 News team in January 2023.