Call 9-8-8: Legislator Proposes Suicide Prevention Hotline

Legislator Joshua Lafazan announces he is introducing a bill to create a suicide prevention hotline. (Photo courtesy of Joshua Lafazan’s office)

The days of dialing 10 numbers in a suicide emergency will likely end. Thanks to a new bill proposed by Nassau County Legislator Joshua Lafazan (D-Woodbury), the county may very well establish a specific crisis hotline to prevent suicide deaths.

“Mental health experts say that Americans need a ‘9-1-1 for the brain,’” Lafazan said in a statement. “When an individual is having a heart attack or in severe distress, there is still enough recognition of 9-1-1 to dial those numbers. Yet when an individual is considering self-harm, to expect that person to remember this number amid severe distress is not a pragmatic situation.”

The hotline, which is expected to pass in the Nassau County Legislature and be signed into law by County Executive Laura Curran, will make 9-8-8 the official number to call during a mental health crisis. The number will be available for those who know someone who might be considering suicide, or for the individuals themselves.

Lafazan, on Oct. 29, stood side-by-side with mental health professionals, suicide awareness advocates and his Democratic colleagues at the county’s legislative building to unveil the legislation. Lafazan said the bill is “designed to be recognizable, accessible and remembered in a moment of mental health crisis.” Those who dial 9-8-8 will be connected to the Bellmore-based Long Island Crisis Center, which is one of 163 crisis centers in America that is affiliated with the Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network.

Currently, the only crisis hotline that is available in Nassau County can be reached by calling 516-679-1111. The national hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.

Lafazan’s proposal came less than two months after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed a national three-digit hotline for those with suicidal thoughts or are suffering through other mental health issues. The FCC wants to make 9-8-8 a national number via the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act. But that might take months to pass.

A year ago, the national hotline’s counselors received more than 2.2 million calls, according to an FCC report. The hotline also was involved in 100,000 chats on the internet to prevent suicide deaths.

On average, 112 Americans die by suicide each day, according to the Long Island Crisis Center, located at 2740 Martin Ave. in Bellmore.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year reported 28.8 percent increase in New York-based suicides from 1999 to 2016.

Should Lafazan’s bill pass the county legislature, Curran’s administration will be deemed eligible “to pursue federal, state and private grants to fund a public awareness campaign to promote the 9-8-8 hotline.”

“My hope for when we pass this bill is twofold,” Lafazan said. “First and foremost, I want my generation to grow up with a ubiquitous level of recognition for this number. Secondly, I hope that everybody who is considering self-harm remembers that resources are available here in Nassau County, and that no matter how difficult life may become or no matter the level of severity of the issues you are dealing with, we are here to help you.”

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