T-Mobile has made the 988 emergency lifeline number available nationwide to its customers. Callers will automatically be connected to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which consists of about 180 local and state funded crisis centers with professionally trained counselors.
The timing was driven by a trio of parallel factors. The carrier says there are increasing signs of clinical depression in ever greater segments of the population due to stress from the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and the approach of the holiday season. The press release says that there is a suicide once every 11 minutes in the United States. Suicides are greater among veterans, with an average of 17.6 vets taking their lives every day.
The FCC has set a July 2022 deadline for establishing the three-digit number. T-Mobile complied early by modifying its network to translate and route 988 calls to the suicide prevention lifeline, which traditionally has been reached via a longer toll-free number. The carrier also updated systems so that no charges are made to callers and those texting 988 get a response advising them to call.
“Giving our customers a quick connection via 988 to trained mental health care professionals was a priority for us because it could save lives,” T-Mobile Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Abdul Saad said in a press release.
In June, the FCC said that it was to vote in July on designating the 988 number for suicide prevention communications. Before the July 16, 2022 deadline, the FCC recommends that at-risk people continue calling the existing hotline number, which is 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK).
The FCC process began last December with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is funded by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). In 2018, it answered more than 2.2 million calls and responded to more than 100,000 chats.