Local schools preparing to share new suicide hotline number with parents when school year starts

PITTSBURGH — Starting July 16, all you have to do is pick up the phone and dial 988 if you’re in a mental health crisis. Schools in our region are already preparing to share this with parents when students get back to school.

The signature 10-digit phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has been 800-273-TALK for years, but starting July 16, there will be an easier number to remember, just the  three digits 988.

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“When you are stuck in a dark place only with your own thoughts, it can be hard to see the way out. This is an opportunity and we want people to reach out so that they know that they’re not alone,” Pennsylvania Department of Human Services employee Kristen Houser said.

The department says that number will redirect your call to one of 13 crisis call centers in our state..

They say this number is for anyone all over the country, but schools in our area are making sure that it’s well-known to students and parents in the upcoming school year.

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“It’s three numbers and it’s kind of like when we got used to 911, that even a small child will be able to access that,” Pittsburgh Public Schools Director of Student Support Services for Social Workers Elena Runco said.

Runco said getting the word out about the new phone number is going to be very valuable for students.

“I think it’s making people aware that this is new, this is easy to access, this is easy to remember. Use it. Again, I think having something with this easy of an access does decrease the stigma,” Runco said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services says in 2020, 76,000 state residents reached out to the lifeline. Now in 2022, the hope is that anyone can remember who to call.

“So this is really about just expanding access in a way that is easier to remember for anybody in Pennsylvania to get connected to local resources,” Houser said.

The 988 number won’t be active until July 16, so in the meantime, call the 10-digit number for help Ater July 16, either number will redirect callers to a crisis center.