September was National Suicide Prevention Month, and this month New Mexicans need to be prepared for a new way of dialing local phone numbers that will hopefully save lives.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline will be changing from the 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) to a three-digit number, 9-8-8. The switch to using 9-8-8 is akin to calling 9-1-1 for emergencies and is much easier to remember in times of crisis. The hotline is in place to enable individuals of all ages to be able to connect with counselors trained in suicide prevention and mental health emergencies.

Starting Oct. 24, New Mexicans must use 10 digits when dialing local calls as we are one of 35 states that currently permits seven-digit dialing. We have local numbers using 988 as the first three digits, also known as the central office code or local exchange.

On or after Oct. 24, if you use only seven digits for local dialing, your call may not go through or you may hear a recording directing you to use a 10-digit number. There is no need to wait for the 24th to begin using 10-digit phone numbers, as this has been enabled since April 24. Start reprogramming those numbers in your contact list now.

According to statistics from the New Mexico Department of Health website, New Mexico has the second-highest rate of suicide in the nation and this rate is consistently 50 percent higher than the national average. Suicide is the eighth-leading cause of death in our state for all ages but is the leading cause of death in 15- to 17-year-olds (this rate also includes unintentional injuries). It is the second-highest cause of death in the age ranges from 5 to 14 years and 18 to 35 years.

The rates are also increasing, doubling in 65- to 74-year-olds and tripling in 10- to 14-year-olds. Rates are three times higher in males than females, and highest among Caucasian and indigenous people in our state.

About two-thirds of individuals who complete suicide suffer from depression.

Depression is common in children and teens, and seems to have become even more common during the pandemic. Depression can also run in families. Kids and teens often will not tell you that they are depressed, so it can be helpful to know some warning signs.

It can be exhibited by multiple symptoms in kids and teens. These symptoms may include: sadness or irritability; change in sleep patterns and eating habits; weight loss or gain; no longer enjoying things that made them happy; isolating themselves from friends or social groups; fatigue or low energy; exhibiting low self-esteem; decreased focus or drop in grades; complaining of physical aches and pains with no identifiable cause; seeming uncaring about the future; neglect of personal appearance or responsibilities; self-harm; using drugs or alcohol; and talking about self-harm or suicide.

If you are concerned about your child or teen, schedule an appointment with their health care provider. At home, I encourage you to talk with and listen to your children with love and support. Asking someone if they are thinking about hurting themselves or ending their life does not encourage them to do so. In fact, giving them the safe space to talk about how they are feeling can be supportive and protective.

Lock up medication and weapons, separating ammunition from the firearm. There is a much–higher suicide success rate in homes with firearms.

In addition, make sure they have trusted contacts to call if they are feeling worse, and teach them to share their concerns with you if their friends are depressed or suicidal. You are loved, your life has worth, and you matter.

New Mexico Crisis Line: 1-855-NMCRISIS (1-855-662-7474)

NM Crisis Line

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

(Melissa Mason is a general pediatrician with Journey Pediatrics in Albuquerque. This column also ran in the Oct. 4 edition of the Albuquerque Journal. Please send your questions to [email protected].)