The suicide rate in the United States is at the highest level since World War II. In response, the federal government is establishing a three-digit prevention hotline in hopes of making it easier to find help.
This week, the five-member Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously to move forward with plans to designate 988 as the number to reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, according to CNN.
“988 has an echo of the 911 number we all know as an emergency number,” said FCC chair Ajit Pai. “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.”
The proposal from the FCC requires carriers to implement 988 as a hotline within an 18-month period. In addition, the FCC is seeking input on “all aspects of implementation,” to include timing.
In 2018, Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act, which called for a study to determine how effective the hotline has been and requested the best three-digit call code for said hotline.
The FCC report indicated implementing the new call number would cost around $570 million in the first year and $175 million in the second.
This issue has been particularly important to FCC commissioner Michael O’Reilly, whose brother in law died by suicide.
“These are about those that we can convince,” he said during a Thursday meeting. “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.”
So far, though, the new hotline number doesn’t include an option for texting. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel noted texting is “primary for so many young people,” adding, “It would be a mistake for us to build a system that presumes talk is the only starting point for discussion.”
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) praised the FCC and urged Congress to move forward on a bipartisan bill to establish 988 as a national suicide hotline.
“Today’s action by the FCC is a historic step toward making the 988 suicide hotline a reality,” he said. “But it doesn’t mean 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.”
Data about suicide
In 2017, more than 47,000 Americans died by suicide and more than 1.4 million adults attempted to end their own lives.
Suicide is currently the 10th leading cause of death in the country, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Furthermore, the suicide rate has increased 33 percent from 1999 to 2017.
At the present time, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is a 10-digit number: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).
If you or anyone you know is struggling with depression, suicidal thoughts, or you just need someone to talk to, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you’re looking for counseling services in your area, consult the Christian Counselors Network.