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New 988 suicide hotline launches in July

The three digit number is intended to be easier for people to remember.

TAMPA, Fla. — Car crash, heart attack, fire...you know who to call. 911 has been engrained in our heads for years.

However, if you were having a mental crisis, who would you call? Your answer might not be so simple; but that's why a new number, 988 will go live later this year.

988 will become America's new suicide prevention lifeline, and the state of Florida is trying to ensure it's ready for launch day on July 16.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people age 10 to 34 and tenth overall in the United States.

Credit: Brent Kraus

Face of suicide

In 2010, while in culinary school in New York City, Matt Kraus took his own life. He was 25.

His only sibling, Brent Kraus said their family was shocked.

"He just had a great personality, a people person, people loved to be around him, a great smile, one of those guys that you would never suspect anything," said Brent.

Since Matt's death, the Kraus family has dedicated much of their life to raising awareness about mental health and suicide prevention.

Operators at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay take calls from people 24/7 who are considering taking their own lives.

"For many, they tell us, this was my last ditch effort," said Clara Reynolds, the president and CEO of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.

Reynolds said suicide intervention calls are not easy and can take up to one hour. 

The nation's new suicide prevention hotline 988 will go live on July 16.

Reynolds said, "We recognize that by moving from a ten digit to a three digit number, there's going to be better access for individuals which also means more people are going to reach out for help and support."

Are we ready?

In Florida, the Department of Children and Families is overseeing the project.

A spokesperson with DCF said the state is using grant money to pay for projected infrastructure needs and added call volume.

Fortunately, call phone lines are already in place thanks to the existing suicide prevention lifeline. 1-800-273-TALK will still remain operational once 988 launches.

With more calls expected, it's not clear if Floridians will foot the 988 bill once it’s up and running. When it is, more people will be needed to take calls 24/7. The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay says it will be ready come July.

"It takes a lot of training for these individuals, these are not volunteers, these are professionally trained staff," said Reynolds.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is tracking the progress and implementation of 988 across the country. It's advocating for SB478 which will charge the state with assessing the current lifeline infrastructure and identify potential funding services. AFSP also wants the state budget to carve out a portion to sustain 988.

AFSP encourages protective actions that reduce the likelihood of LGBTQ youth suicide attempts and suicide deaths citing an increased risk of suicide for LGBTQ youth. AFSP opposes SB1834 which prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity.

Know to call

The next step is getting the word out about 988 and marketing in Florida hasn't started yet. A member of the marketing team said the public won’t even see messaging until June.

RELATED: '988' suicide-prevention hotline must include texting option, FCC says

10 Tampa Bay Cares: Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay at 211.

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