FCC votes to make Suicide Prevention Hotline 9-8-8

The Federal Communications Commission voted to make 9-8-8 the new three-digit number to reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Currently, the hotline is accessible by the 10-digit number, 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). All telecommunications carriers, and Voice over IP service providers, will be required to implement the new number nationwide by July 16, 2022.

“988 will save lives. Helping Americans in crisis connect to counselors trained in suicide prevention is one of the most important things we can do at the FCC,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai stated recently. “We believe that 988 will help people access mental health services.”

Pai said the two-year window was based on input from mental health advocates, the telecoms industry and other stakeholders. The FCC rejected a request for a longer time frame to adjust. “We wanted to move as quickly as we feasibly could,” said Pai.

Even after 988 is implemented, callers will still be able to reach the hotline through the original 10-digit number.

The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ youth, commended the FCC’s announcement.

“Suicide remains the second leading cause of death among young people, and LGBTQ youth are at increased risk. Americans in crisis cannot wait. We also applaud the FCC’s continued support for specialized services for LGBTQ youth,” the organization said in a statement.

Last year, the FCC’s staff recommended to Congress the number 9-8-8, over other three-digit options, finding that a shorter and easier to remember number “would likely make it easier for Americans in crisis to access potentially life-saving resources.”

In December, the FCC unanimously approved the three-digit number for the hotline and began the rulemaking process.

The FCC estimated the total costs of implementing a 3-digit code for the first year would be about $570 million and $175 million in the second year. The costs include a public awareness campaign and the increased call-center capacity costs.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline was launched in 2005 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Vibrant Emotional Health, a mental health nonprofit.

In 2018, Congress passed the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018. In 2017, more than 47,000 Americans died by suicide and more than 1.4 million adults attempted suicide. From 1999 to 2016, suicide increased in 49 of the 50 states, and in more than half of those states, the increase was greater than 20 percent.

Official data released annually by the American Association of Suicidology showed that New Mexico trailed only Montana, Wyoming and Alaska in suicides.

But the state had a 9% increase in 2018 and reached the top of the list with a rate of 25.6 suicides per 100,000 people compared to the national average of 14.8 suicides per 100,000. New Mexico’s 535 suicides in 2018 was its highest number of suicides since the state began consistently keeping track in 1999.

To get help, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). For crisis support in Spanish, call 1-888-628-9454.

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