FCC proposes 3-digit number, similar to 911, to combat national ‘suicide epidemic’

releon8211/iStock(NEW YORK) — The Federal Communications Commission is moving forward with a plan to create a new three-digit hotline number, similar to 911, to enable quick access to national suicide prevention resources.

In a report sent to Congress earlier this week, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau and Office of Economics laid out its recommendation to designate 988 as the three-digit dialing number to quickly access the nationwide suicide prevention and mental health hotline, the agency said on Thursday.

“The Lifeline has become the nation’s mental health and suicide prevention safety net,” the report said. “In many communities the only immediately available resource for a suicidal person would be an emergency room or the Lifeline and its network of crisis centers.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the services are already provided by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK), but he said a three-digit number could help combat the country’s growing “suicide epidemic.”

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline counselors answered more than 2.2 million calls and 100,000 online chats last year, according to the FCC’s report, which was mandated under President Donald Trump’s National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018. The hotline receives an average of about 188,000 calls and 9,000 crisis chats per day, according to the report.

The new number would be the same hotline that would offer 24/7 free and confidential support for anyone in distress and best practices for professionals, but with a simple and easier-to-remember number.

“There is a suicide epidemic in this country, and it is disproportionately affecting at-risk populations, including our Veterans and LGBTQ youth,” Pai said in a statement. “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,” he added.

Pai said he plans to push forward with a rule-making proceeding. The proposal will be subject to a period of public comment and a final vote among the agency’s commissioners before it can go into effect.

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