3-Digit Suicide Prevention Hotline In The Works

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has unanimously voted to proceed with a proposal to set up a new hotline for suicide prevention and mental health. The proposal calls for the agency to set up a 3-digit number, similar to the 911 system, to connect callers to a network of crisis centers around the country. The FCC said in a report in August that a dedicated 3-digit dialing code for the hotline would “make it easier for Americans in crisis to access potentially life-saving resources.”

The proposed number, 988, would link to a network, set up by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), of 163 crisis call centers around the country. The FCC says that last year alone, counselors at these crisis centers answered more than 2.2 million calls and more than 100,000 online chats. Research shows that callers were significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful by the end of their calls with counselors. The crisis centers’ services are currently accessible by the 10-digit number, 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).

Overall, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 1999 and 2017, the age-adjusted suicide rate rose about 33 percent. Among young people aged 10 to 24, suicide is the second leading cause of death, with rates rising 56 percent from 2007 to 2017. The HHS’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) says more than 47,000 Americans died by suicide and more than 1.4 million adults attempted suicide in 2017.

The vote by the FCC represents a major step forward in the process of creating the 3-digit suicide prevention hotline. The move now opens a period of public comment on the proposal before the commission begins finalizing the rules. The FCC is asking for input on “all aspects of implementation.” The notice proposes an 18-month time frame for making the number a reality.