FCC Proposes Creating Three-Digit National Suicide Prevention Hotline ‘988’

The new three-digit number will make access to potentially life-saving counseling easier, especially for at-risk populations in America.

A man speaks on the phone while lying on a shaded bench in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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The new three-digit number will make access to potentially life-saving counseling easier, especially for at-risk populations in America.

As the number of suicides in America continues to steadily increase, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed a much faster and more memorable way for those at risk to seek help if need be.

A recommendation from the FCC to Congress in a report this week proposed designating the number 988 as the National Suicide Prevention Hotline number, according to The Hill.

“[D]esignating a 3-digit code dedicated solely for the purpose of a national suicide prevention and mental health hotline would likely make it easier for Americans in crisis to access potentially life-saving resources,” the report said.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai relayed in a statement that he supports the measure and intends to make it happen, citing the need to make it easier for people who need immediate help, especially at-risk population like veterans and LGBTQ youth.

“Crisis call centers have been shown to save lives. This report recommends using a three-digit number to make it easier to access the critical suicide prevention and mental health services these call centers provide,” Pai said.

Additional three-digit numbers were considered, according to the report, but it was ultimately found that using 988 would be easier to implement as opposed to repurposing any existing three-digit numbers.

Because of FCC rules, the idea will be open to public comment for a period of at least 30 days.

Rep. Chris Stewart, a Republican lawmaker from Utah who was key to passing the law that launched the study of using such a hotline, was pleased with the announcement to move forward with it.

Stewart said in a statement that the hotline will “save lives” and praised the FCC for tackling the growing issue.

Timing of the potential implementation of the emergency number comes a critical time, as according to alarming numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates in America are currently at their highest level since World War II.

The CDC also states that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America.

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According to USA Today, the current number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-TALK (8255). When dialed, callers are routed to one of 163 call centers. They collectively fielded a staggering 2.2 million calls last year alone.

As The Hill reported, the current number was established in 2005 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and a non-profit called Vibrant Emotional Health.

While the shorter three-digit number would likely increase calls, the idea doesn’t come without increased cost. An estimation by the FCC revealed that if the hotline receives double the number of calls, an additional $50 million per year would be needed by the centers to handle the volume.