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Published: December 13, 2019  | Updated: January 15, 2020

IN A NUTSHELL:

  • Redirects 988 calls to 1-800-273-TALK
  • Network comprised of 163 crisis centers
  • In 2018, 2.2 million calls answered

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission started the process of designating 988 as a new, nationwide, 3-digit number for a suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline.

Officials said the designation will help ease access to crisis services, reduce the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health conditions, and ultimately save lives.

The proposal directs any calls made to 988 to the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a national network of 163 crisis centers that is funded by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Currently, the Lifeline is available by calling 1-800-273-TALK and through online chats.  In 2018 alone, trained Lifeline counselors answered more than 2.2 million calls and more than 100,000 online chats.

An FCC report to Congress found that a 3-digit suicide hotline number “would likely make it easier for Americans in crisis to access potentially life-saving resources.”  The report noted that from 1999 to 2016 suicide increased in 49 of the 50 states, and the increase was greater than 20 percent in more than half of those states.

It also noted that suicide rates are higher across various at-risk populations, including veterans and LGBTQ communities.

The report found that the technical and operational issues associated with implementing 988 could be addressed and resolved more quickly than any re-education efforts needed to repurpose an existing 3-digit number such as 911 or 211.

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