Texting in an emergency

The FCC is looking to add texting capabilities to the 988 Suicide Prevention Hotline and has put out a notification requesting commentary.

The 988 hotline number was established in 2020 as an alternative to a longer toll-free number to provide a quick way for anyone contemplating suicide to connect with suicide prevention and mental health crisis counselors. By July 16, 2022, all phone service providers must direct all 988 calls to the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline under the FCC directive.

Until the 988 connections are finalized, those needing help should contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK) or through online chats.

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The initiative is important. According to the FCC 47,511 individuals died by suicide in the United States in 2019. Since then, the global pandemic, economic challenges and civil unrest has only increased stress, with suicides increasing, particularly among younger people.

Texting, which many younger people prefer to phone calls, would provide another way to reach out for help. Americans sent an estimated 2.1 trillion text messages in 2019. Late last summer, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline “soft-launched” texting service and began responding to texts received on the Lifeline’s toll-free number.

“Suicide is now the second most common cause of death among teenagers and young adults,” said FCC acting chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, in a prepared statement. about 988 suicide hotline texting. “The rate of suicide for young girls has tripled over the last twenty years. For Black teens, we’ve seen similarly devastating increases. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer young adults contemplate suicide at a rate more than four times higher than their cisgender peers. Plus, young people who are deaf or hard of hearing are more likely to consider suicide than those without hearing disabilities. Now consider this pandemic and the associated economic challenges and you have the potential for a whole new level of crisis.”

The FCC Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks comment on requiring covered text providers to support text messaging to 988 and on the types of text messages that would be supported. It also looks for feedback on a uniform nationwide implementation deadline, technical standards for software and equipment, as well as whether and in what circumstances to require covered text providers to send automatic bounce-back messages to consumers where text-to-988 service is unavailable.

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