116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Though dialing a full 10-digit phone number may seem like an inconvenience, crisis intervention providers in the Corridor say that small sacrifice could make a huge difference in the life of someone in crisis.
Starting in October, Iowa residents in the 319 and 515 area codes will have to dial all 10 digits of a phone number when making calls to make way for a new three-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
The Federal Communications Commission will require dialing both the area code and phone number starting Oct. 24. After that, calls made without the area code may not go through, instead leading callers to a recording reminding them to dial the area code.
Callers can begin using the new system April 24.
In all, the change will affect 82 area codes in 32 states.
Many major phone providers are sending notices to alert customers to the change.
'Before the permissive 10-digit dialing period begins on April 24, 2021, we will be informing customers who have Verizon numbers with the 82 impacted area codes via bill messages and a news release,” Verizon spokesman Chris Serico told The Gazette in an email. 'We will send reminders before the mandatory 10-digit dialing deadline of Oct. 24, 2021.”
The reason for the change is the roll out of the three-digit number, 988, which can be called from anywhere in the country and will connect callers to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
The affected Iowa area codes, which include Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo and Des Moines, have to make the change because some of their local phone numbers use 988 as the prefix in the seven-digit phone numbers.
The new 988 hotline is set to go live in July 2022.
Mental health advocates, such as Emily Blomme, executive director of Foundation 2 in Cedar Rapids, hope people in need of crisis intervention services will remember the number because it's short and similar to the 911 emergency number.
Individuals in the meantime can dial 1-800-273-TALK to reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline - also often called the 'lifeline” - which has been operating in the United States for more than 15 years, Blomme said.
In Iowa, Foundation 2 is the primary center that answers calls to the national hotline, fielding 75 to 80 percent of the approximately 14,000 calls that are routed from the national hotline to Iowa each year.
CommUnity Crisis Services and Food Bank in Iowa City is the second provider, Blomme said. Its crisis line number is (319) 351-0140.
'I think the benefit of transitioning to 988 is twofold,” Blomme said Monday.
'One part is that it's an easier number to remember. If you're having a mental health crisis or you're feeling suicidal, you might not remember the 10-digit 800 number because when you're in major distress, you're not necessarily thinking clearly. But 988 is pretty easy to remember.”
The other aspect, Blomme said, has to do with addressing issues around mental health.
'I think the other purpose of this transition is to decrease stigma, in that we all know to call 911 for a physical health emergency - and once this hotline is rolled out, you can call 988 for help with emotional distress or a mental health emergency,” she said.
Another benefit would be the diverting of crisis calls from the 911 emergency line and from law enforcement.
The change also highlights the current mental health crisis in the Unites States, Foundation 2 Crisis Services Director Drew Martel said.
'In our mind, three-digit numbers are important, right? We have 911 and 211 as examples. And now we're giving this crisis line a three-digit number and that's a big deal because nobody gets a three digit number unless they are important,” he said.
The suicide rate has climbed nearly 30 percent since 1999, with rates increasing in 49 out of 50 states over the last decade, according to statistics from Vibrant Emotional Health - formerly the Mental Health Association of New York City - the organization that currently administers the lifeline.
Blomme said the reactions she has seen to the new 10-digit dialing requirement have been mixed.
'Some are saying it's for a good cause, others seem to feel it will be a major inconvenience and others still say they have been dialing 10-digit numbers for years,” she said.
The new requirement also could cause some hassle for Iowa businesses.
Bret Moyer, general manager of Karl Chevrolet in Ankeny, told the Des Moines Register that the Karl dealerships maintain a database that includes customer phone numbers - an invaluable tool for any sales organization.
When asked if some of those thousands of numbers might need to be updated to the required 10-digit format, he said 'Oh, jeez, I assume so.”
Gazette reporter John Steppe and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org; 319-398-8238.