Local calls in New Orleans, Lafayette areas must now include area codes after change to bolster suicide prevention

Published: Oct. 24, 2021 at 12:25 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Making calls inside the 504 area code will require 10 digits as of Sunday (Oct. 24), according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Starting today, the change goes into effect for the 504 area code around New Orleans, the 337 area code servicing Lafayette-Lake Charles and southwestern Louisiana, and 80 other area codes across 35 states.

In a statement, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline says the FCC is transitioning all dialing codes to include an area code in order “to help people connect to the Lifeline via 988, when they are seeking support for emotional distress or suicidal crisis, and to reduce unintended connections to the Lifeline.”

On the official FCC website, the change is explained:

“There are more phones in America than there are people, and each phone needs its own phone number. Beginning in the early 1990s, to accommodate the growing need for more phone numbers, some areas began to add a second area code for local calls. Dialing both the area code and the seven-digit number was necessary to ensure the call reached the intended recipient. As more area codes begin to run out of new seven-digit numbers to assign, a second local area code may be added, requiring that area to transition to ten-digit dialing.

In 2020, the FCC established “988″ as the new, nationwide three-digit phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The new three-digit dialing code will be available nationwide by July 16, 2022, and will provide an easily remembered and easy to dial three-digit number to reach suicide prevention and mental health counselors, similar to 911 for emergencies and 311 for local government services.

“To help facilitate the creation of 988, area codes that use 988 as a local exchange, or the first three digits of a seven-digit phone number, will need to use 10-digit dialing.”

Currently, two call centers associated with the national lifeline are set up in Louisiana, in Shreveport and New Orleans.

Dr. Holly MacKenna, a psychiatrist with Dara Wellness in New Orleans, says just being able to quickly dial 988 to get through to a certified counselor will be hugely beneficial for distressed people.

“When you’re in crisis, it’s very difficult to remember this lengthy number,” MacKenna said. “There’s so many different types of numbers out there and people can get confused. And whenever you are in crisis or someone you know is in crisis, you need that easy go-to number.

“Often times, our brains go into a fight-or-flight mode. So, doing something like Google or looking it up in the phone book is just too much when you’re in that state of mind.”

She also says the need for professional help is rising due to overwhelming stress that many Americans feel, stemming from the pandemic and a recent slew of natural disasters.

And the same way that the numbers 911 have become engrained in our minds, Dr. MacKenna says she hopes to further destigmatize mental health issues with 988.

“All of these things are risk factors for having either suicidal thoughts or hopelessness, or just experiencing things like anxiety, depression or PTSD,” MacKenna said.

“Reaching out is the best first step to help you from having that happen or from having that worsen, and the crisis line is a place you can turn if you’re not sure where else to go.”

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