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SLO County health officials support potential 988 suicide hotline number

Posted at 7:36 AM, Dec 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-16 11:01:12-05

America's suicide rate is on the rise and the statistics are even more alarming in San Luis Obispo County.

The rate of suicides per 100,000 people in San Luis Obispo County is about 17 compared to 13.6 nationally and 10.4 at the state level. Santa Barbara County health officials report a similar suicide rate to the state rate.

SLO County health officials report older white men are most affected by suicide here locally.

The Transitions Mental Health Association crisis hotline, which is separate from the national hotline, takes about 10,000 calls per year.

"The person who is reaching out to the hotline wants help from us," TMHA Clinical Dir. Meghan Boaz Alvarez said. "We're on the same page from the beginning. we want to help them, they want help from us. I think typically what happens is the person has the opportunity to unburden themselves and tell their story about how they landed in this crisis, what factors led up to the crisis."

Boaz Alvarez said she the potential for an abbreviated phone number for people in crisis to reach help is a step in the right direction.

"Their brain is basically in fight or flight mode so decision making becomes impaired, even language can become impaired. Trying to look up a 10 digit number or remember a 10-digit number seems like a tall order," Boaz Alvarez said. "So I think the idea of having just three digits you need to remember for a mental health crisis like you would for a physical health crisis is definitely easier to remember."

Boaz Alvarez said her agency can direct people to local resources for further assistance.

But she believes a person in the midst of crisis should call whichever resource they can reach fastest.

The FCC reports counselors nationwide answered more than 2 million calls and more than 100,000 online chats last year.

According to national data, more than 47,000 Americans died by suicide in 2017 and more than 1.4 million adults attempted suicide.

If the 988 number is approved, it would only accept calls and not texts.