The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering establishing 988 as a new three-digit suicide prevention hotline number, with a vote on the matter scheduled for Dec. 12.
The proposal, if approved, would require that all phone companies transmit all calls to 988 to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which today provides suicide prevention assistance at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) and through online chats. In 2018, trained Lifeline counselors answered over 2.2 million calls and over 100,000 online chats.
The Lifeline is a national network of more than 160 crisis centers that is funded by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Lifeline calls are routed from anywhere in the United States to the closest certified crisis center.
The 988 proposal is the result of the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018, which directed the FCC, in consultation with the SAMHSA, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the North American Numbering Council, to study the feasibility of using a simple, easy-to-remember 3-digit number for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline system.
In August, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau and Office of Economics and Analytics recommended 988 as the new 3-digit dialing code and found that such a 3-digit number “would likely make it easier for Americans in crisis to access potentially life-saving resources.”
“The suicide rate in the United States is at its highest level since World War II, and designating 988 as the suicide prevention and mental health hotline would be a major boost for our nation’s suicide prevention efforts,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, in a prepared statement. “When it comes to saving lives, time is of the essence, and we believe that 988 can be activated more quickly than other possible three-digit codes. In addition, 988 has an echo of the 911 number we all know as an emergency number. Awareness of this resource—including how memorable the number is—should make a real difference in saving lives.”