Iowa City to promote National Suicide Hotline new three-digit number

The National Suicide Hotline will become a three-digit number, 9-8-8, starting July 2022. Texting this number will also be an option for those seeking assistance. Iowa City is working with the Iowa City Police Department to promote the number.


Larry Phan

Photo illustration by Larry Phan.

Emily Delgado, News Reporter

The National Suicide Hotline will be turned into a three-digit number, 9-8-8, in July 2022. In Iowa City, calls to the line will be routed to the Crisis Intervention Program housed under CommUnity Crisis Services and Food Bank.

Iowa City City Manager Geoff Fruin wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that he believes call volume will increase as people can remember 9-8-8 more easily than its current number, (800) 273-8255.

The change to a three-digit number provides novel access to mental health care to people struggling with mental health problems, said Sarah Nelson, CommUnity Crisis Services and Food Bank executive director.

CommUnity Crisis Services and Food Bank offers crisis call, chat, and text services as well as a Mobile Crisis Outreach Program, where mental health counselors are dispatched to areas where a mental health crisis is occurring.

“The other thing that’s really exciting is that the FCC recently passed the ability for people to text 9-8-8,” Nelson said.

Nelson said she believes the texting option will allow younger people to have more access to help.

Iowa City City Councilor Janice Weiner praised the new number’s accessibility.

“It makes a lot of sense to me that it should be really easy to call,” Weiner said. “I mean, somebody shouldn’t have to look up an 800 number.”

Nelson said she hopes the change will assist in decreasing the number in suicides nationwide, because the three-digit number will serve as a better tool.

“An educated assessment of the situation is that with anytime access, we are creating an opportunity to reduce tragic outcomes,” Nelson said.

In an update to the Iowa City City Council on Nov. 30, the Mobile Crisis Outreach program spoke on its personal goals of including stabilizing the crisis and reducing unnecessary hospitalization.

Currently, the city and crisis service are working together to improve response times through a “multi-year” grant, Fruin wrote. This project will appear on the council’s agenda in January.

Something that Weiner came up with and finds interesting, she said, is setting up a triage of questions when a person calls in a 9-1-1 call.

“I would love to see something like that. I don’t know what’s going to look like in the end, but to me, that’s something where we should be headed,” Weiner said.

The city is working alongside the Iowa City Police Department to make sure 9-8-8 is being promoted at the same or greater volume than the emergency 9-1-1 number, Fruin said at the Nov. 30 city council meeting.

“We continue to have some great discussions with the mobile crisis on expanding their capabilities and improving their response time” Fruin said. “We’re pretty close to bringing you a proposal on that using some of the ARPA funds.”

Editor’s note: This story originally said CommUnity’s Mobile Crisis Outreach Program would respond to 9-8-8 calls. The calls will be taken by the Crisis Intervention Program which currently operates Lifeline and the service’s call line.