LEXINGTON, Ky. (FOX 56) – Each year, more than 2,000,000 people call the national suicide hotline, and the operators believes that’s only a fraction of the numbers of Americans who think about suicide.

Starting Saturday, it will be easier for people to reach a counselor. That is when a new three-digit hotline takes effect.

People can still reach the former 11-digit number but the new number is much easier to punch in, 9-8-8.
experts worried that the 1-800 number was difficult for people to find or remember during a crisis.

The new national suicide hotline has expanded its focus to help callers experiencing a range of mental health emergencies.

It is a new number but not a new service. The new 988 number is meant to provide a simpler way to get emergency care and helps callers access a team of mental health professionals.

“I am on a face book group for mental health professionals and just last week, I am compiling a list of all the hot lines for mental health issues and I said it is easy, it is now 988,” UK psychologist Dr. Julie Cerel said.

Cerel a licensed clinical psychologist and director of the suicide prevention and exposure lab said this change could not have  come at a better time.

“Just like 911 for physical health issues, 988 is the number to call if you are concerned about yourself or if you are concerned about someone you care about,” Cerel said.

The hot line’s expanded focus as a “911” for mental health will soon connect Kentuckians facing thoughts of suicide and mental health distress.

“If you do not have a therapist or if you are looking for someone instead of going to the hospital right away or calling 911 which we need to reserve for when it is  emergencies that need an ambulance or police response  988 is a great option,” Cerel said.

Cerel said the new 9-8-8 number may mean a lot more calls to the hotline. But, that’s not a reason to worry.

“I have been told that they are increasing staffing this weekend for the big rollout,” Cerel said.

Gov. Beshear plans to join mental health partners at a news conference Monday at the capitol to officially launch 988.