MACON, Ga. — Starting Saturday, people suffering from a mental health crisis will have an easier way to get help. They'll be able to simply call or text "988" instead of the 1-800 suicide prevention hotline.
The line is available 24/7, and people will be connected with counselors for mental health concerns and crises.
Dr. Shannon Gordon, CEO of River Edge Behavioral Health in Macon says the new National Suicide & Crisis Hotline is easier to remember than the current 11-digit 1-800 hotline.
"Every time I have to refer somebody, every time, I have to look up the number," Gordon said, who has been in the field for over 30 years. She says this new hotline is a "game-changer."
She says the goal is to make 988 as easy to remember and dial as 911.
"Nobody thinks of calling 911 anymore when someone is in physical health crisis or whatever -- people know automatically what to do. That's what 988 is going to do for us," Gordon said.
The hope is this easier to remember hotline will make a more effective lifeline for those in crisis.
This new national initiative is rolling out as the suicide rate in both Macon-Bibb County and Houston County are higher than the national and state average of about 13 suicide deaths per 100,000 people.
In 2021, 29 people committed suicide in Bibb County and at least 27 in Houston County.
Houston County Coroner James Williams says the suicide numbers may be even higher because some overdoses may have been intentional by the person overdosing. Williams says it's often difficult for the Coroner's Office to rule a death a suicide in drug-related deaths.
Another goal of the new number is to lessen the burden on 911 centers and law enforcement. Williams says that last year, law enforcement in Houston County responded to 575 suicidal calls, and, so far this year, 332 calls.
"It's alarming," Williams said. "Suicide is preventable if the signs are seen by family or friends."
The 11-digit suicide prevention hotline, 1-800-273-8255, will still be available.
According to CBS News, the 11-digit national suicide prevention hotline takes in more than three million calls and messages a year. With the new three-digit number, volume is expected to more than double by this time next year.