The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is moving forward with plans to update the national suicide prevention lifeline number. The goal is to eventually create a shorter number that’s as easy and as identifiable as 911.
The FCC is expected to take the first step in the process during an upcoming meeting on Dec. 12, when the commission is expected to hold a vote to replace the current suicide and mental health hotline number with a new three digit code: 988.
The current suicide hotline number is 1-800-273-8255.
The idea is that shortening the number will make the hotline more accessible to the people who need it — and demand is especially high. In 2017 alone, more than 47,000 people died by suicide, which is the country’s 10th leading cause of death.
According to the FCC, suicide prevention counselors answered more than 2.2 million calls and 100,000 online messages last year alone. The suicide hotline gets about 188,000 calls and 9,000 online chats per day, according to a report from the FCC.
If the FCC vote passes, there would be a public comment period before establishment and implementation of the new rule. No official timeline beyond that has been announced.
A number of industry leaders and mental health advocates have lauded the FCC’s move.
The National Council for Behavioral Health applauded the news as a “significant step forward in addressing the suicide crisis.”
Meanwhile, Kimberly Williams, president and chief executive officer of Vibrant Emotional Health, the nonprofit administrator of the hotline, voiced her support, along with questions.
“We are gratified the F.C.C. report recognizes the need for a 3 digit number dedicated to mental health support as we believe this number will reduce suicides in the United States,” Williams told the New York Times in a statement. “That said, we are interested in understanding more as to why a more easily remembered number, such as 611, was not more thoroughly considered. We look forward to learning more about this important consideration.”
The FCC Chairman Ajit Pai encouraged that kind of feedback and more.
“We intend for this to be a kick-starter for a public conversation, and we want to get meaningful input from the public on all aspects of the 988 issue,” Pai said during a press conference last week. “We want to take a very holistic view because we recognize that any call that is dropped or that is impeded won’t be answered by somebody who can provide help.”