It’s engrained in us from a young age, and it’s now a shortcut in our smartphones. If there’s an emergency, a threat, or you feel unsafe, you dial that three digit number: 911.
However, for those who feel uneasy about their own mental health, they may feel stymied or even shameful about reaching out for help.
To combat the ongoing stigma associated with suicide and mental health, the Federal Communications Commission unanimously voted to proceed with a proposal to create a new hotline similar to 911. However, instead of dialing police, the number connects to professionals in mental health and suicide prevention.
Once the number has been set up, those seeking help will simply need to dial 988 for emergency services. Currently, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline uses a 10-digit number, 800-273-TALK (8255). Callers are routed to one of 170 crisis centers, where counselors answered 2.5 million calls last year. The new number would send callers to a number of crisis centers around the country currently in existence and set up by the Department of Health and Human Services.
“988 has an echo of the 911 number we all know as an emergency number. 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,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said Thursday during the commission’s open December meeting.
With talks about improving the stigma against mental health in legislation for the last number of years, in 2018, Congress passed and President Trump signed into law the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act, which collected data to determine the current hotline’s effectiveness and the best three-digit code for the new one.
“I Pray This Item Has The Impact We Expect it To.”
Upon the research, the FCC recommended for 988 just months ago in August, noting that using a shorter number would make it easier for Americans in crisis to access live-saving resources.
“Overall, the record supports the use of a dedicated 3-digit dialing code as a way to increase the effectiveness of suicide prevention efforts, ease access to crisis services, and reduce the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health conditions,” the federal agency explained in the study, prepared in collaboration with HHS’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA.
During the meeting last Thursday, FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly shared that his brother-in-law passed from suicide and thanked the agency for their hard work.
“These are about those that we can convince. These are about those willing to listen that can be driven in a different direction, that can be shown a path where life matters. So I pray that this item has the impact that we expect it to,” O’Rielly said.
The vote proposes an 18-month time frame to make the number a reality.
Senator Cory Gardner applauded the agency’s efforts and called on Congress to move forward with the bill to establish 988 as the national suicide hotline.
“Today’s action by the FCC is a historic step toward making the 988 suicide hotline a reality,” Gardner said in a video posted on Thursday. “But it doesn’t mean that our work is over. Congress still has a major role to play in creating and supporting this hotline and ensuring that states have the flexibility to make it work.”
If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255