Montana to accommodate new National Suicide Prevention line

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

BILLINGS (AP) — Montana and 36 other states have announced they will update their phone numbers to accommodate the new National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is expected to work nationwide the same way the 911 emergency number does.

The change to the 988 crisis number means all residents in Montana must, starting next year, use a 406 area code from their phones for all in-state calls — local and long distance, The Billings Gazette reported.

The three-digit 988 crisis number is also the same threedigit number that many people have in the small city of Dillon.

The Montana Public Service Commission said Friday that everyone should start using the 406 area code for all Montana calls beginning April 24, 2021. Any calls made without dialing the 406 area code will not be connected starting Oct. 24, 2021.

Commission employee Tina Shorten said people will have to manually add or change numbers in their phone contact lists to the 406 area code and said she does not know of a more effective way of making the changes.

Callers from anywhere in the U.S. would be connected with nearby suicide prevention assistance when calling 988 starting July 2022. The number will replace the current 1-800-273-8255 number to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The change is expected to cost the states about $1 million a year to make it functional, said Matt Kuntz, who directs the Montana branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The alliance is working with Montana Democratic Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell to get a funding bill through the Legislature.

Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, who is Montana’s governor-elect, introduced the bill last year and it was passed by Congress on March 20.

The bill “authorizes states to collect a fee limited to supporting local crisis call centers within the national network or enhancements of such services.”