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Officials Recommend Moving Forward With Three-Digit Suicide Hotline Number

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Update: On Dec. 12, 2019, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted unanimously to move forward with a three-digit suicide prevention hotline number, which will be designated as 988, according to CNN. Now that the FCC voted to move forward, carriers have 18 months to implement the new hotline phone number.

“988 has an echo of the 911 number we all know as an emergency number.,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said. “And we believe that this three-digit number dedicated for this purpose will help ease access to crisis services, it will reduce the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health conditions, and ultimately it will save lives.”

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced it will move forward with instituting a three-digit suicide hotline number: 9-8-8, though the new hotline number won’t be available just yet.

According to the Hill, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau and Office of Economics and Analytics submitted a report to Congress outlining the creation of the three-digit hotline, designated as 9-8-8. Currently, people in crisis must use the full National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number: 1-800-273-8255. The FCC hopes a three-digit code will be easier to remember and use for those who need it.

The FCC’s decision comes after Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed a bill in 2018 asking the commission to study shortening the suicide prevention hotline number. The bill, titled the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act, greenlighted resources for the FCC and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to investigate a three-digit code and provide recommendations.

In its report submitted to Congress, investigators determined “designating a 3-digit code dedicated solely for the purpose of a national suicide prevention and mental health hotline would likely make it easier for Americans in crisis to access potentially life-saving resources.” This echoes what bill sponsor Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said while introducing the bill in Congress — the current number isn’t easy to remember if you’re really struggling.

“I believe that by making the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline system more user-friendly and accessible, we can save thousands of lives by helping people find the help they need when they need it most,” Hatch said. “Every minute we wait, we leave helpless hundreds of Americans who are struggling with suicidal thoughts.”

Based on data collected through to 2014, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline received approximately 1.5 million calls yearly. With a simpler three-digit phone number, it’s expected this would increase.

Now that FCC researchers recommended 9-8-8 for the suicide hotline and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai approved moving forward, the recommendation will be open for public comment and then a vote from the FCC before it can be implemented. A specific timeline for when the new suicide hotline number will be live for callers hasn’t been announced.

“There is a suicide epidemic in this country, and it is disproportionately affecting at-risk populations, including our Veterans and LGBTQ youth,” Pai said in a statement. “Crisis call centers have been shown to save lives. This report recommends using a three-digit number to make it easier to access the critical suicide prevention and mental health services these call centers provide.”

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Header image via Filip_Krstic/Getty Images

Originally published: August 16, 2019
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