FCC Approves 988 As Suicide Prevention Hotline Number Starting In 2022

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 1.4 million Americans attempt to take their own lives every year. In fact, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the country, and those startling numbers certainly aren't decreasing with the events of 2020.

The emotional strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the death of George Floyd and the global fight for racial justice it inspired, have created a negative ripple effect and taken a mental toll on Americans.

We're already seeing the impact of these events, as a recent study in the medical journal JAMA found three times as many adults in the U.S. reported symptoms of serious psychological distress in April compared to two years earlier.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recognizes this strain, and has put forward a new, easily-remembered number for Americans in suicidal crisis to call.

As CNN reported, on Thursday the FCC's five leaders unanimously voted to designate"988" as the new 3-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

The agency hopes to have the new number implemented nationwide by July 16, 2022.

As of right now, distressed Americans can reach the suicide prevention hotline by dialing the 10-digit number: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).

Unsplash | Paul Hanaoka

If they call this number, they are connected suicide prevention and mental health crisis counselors, though not many people know the lengthy digits off-by-heart.

FCC believes the new 988 number, much like 911, will be easier for Americans to remember and quicker to dial, giving it the potential to help save even more lives. (It should be noted that even once the transition is made to 988, people will still be able to reach the hotline using the original 10-digit number as well.)

Ahead of Thursday's vote, FCC chairman Ajit Pai spoke about the effect this 3-digit number could have on the people of this country.

As he explained,

"My hope is that by establishing a government-backed 988 suicide and mental health three-digit dialing code, on par with the 911 dialing code all Americans know for emergencies, we will send a powerful signal that there is nothing shameful about seeking help in times of crisis. That it's a sign of strength, not one of weakness. We will let people know that they are not alone."

While the vote was indeed passed unanimously, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel believed the agency could have been "more ambitious" with its changes.

Unsplash | Jae Park

Specifically, she thinks the FCC should have also incorporated the ability to text 988 as well as call the number if they are in suicidal crisis. As of right now, the lifeline is call only, though there is a chat portal on its website.

Rosenworcel said that if the agency will acknowledge the rise in suicide among teenagers, it should also aknowledge that teenagers primarily communicate through texting.

Unsplash | Kev Costello

"Voice service has its benefits, but it is not native for most young people," she said, as per CNN. "I regret today's decision is anchored in old technologies, and takes a pass on developing texting capabilities with this three-digit hotline."

"We should have done so here, and I sincerely hope we can do so in the future."

Vibrant Emotional Health, which administers the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, declared that the FCC's vote is a "vital step forward."

Unsplash | Eric Ward

"[This] will increase accessibility of support services for individuals experiencing mental health distress. It will help save to lives," Vibrant’s President and CEO Kim Williams said To Good Morning America in a statement. "America now needs Congress to act on final passage of The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which will provide the funding mechanism, authority and infrastructure needed to make 988 available across the country."

If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. You can also reach The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386.

h/t: CNN, CDC, Good Morning America

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