NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Federal regulators are setting up a new three-digit number to reach a suicide prevention hotline in order to make it easier to seek help and reduce the stigma associated with mental health.
Once it’s implemented, people will just need to dial 988 to seek help, similar to calling 911 for emergencies or 311 for city services. Currently, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline uses a 10-digit number, 800-273-TALK (8255). Callers are routed to one of 163 crisis centers, where counselors answered 2.2 million calls last year.
“The three-digit number is really going to be a breakthrough in terms of reaching people in a crisis,” said Dwight Holton, CEO of Lines for Life, a suicide prevention nonprofit. “No one is embarrassed to call 911 for a fire or an emergency. No one should be embarrassed to call 988 for a mental health emergency.”
A law last year required the Federal Communications Commission to study assigning a three-digit number for suicide prevention. The FCC said in a report that there is overwhelming support for a three-digit number because it would be easier for distressed people to get help.
Thursday’s vote starts the months-long process to make that happen. The next step is a comment period before the FCC moves to an order.
“The report noted that, from 1999 to 2016, suicide increased in 49 of the 50 states, and the increase was greater than 20% in more than half of those states,” the FCC said in a statement Thursday. “This designation will help ease access to crisis services, reduce the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health conditions, and ultimately save lives.”
“More than 20 veterans die by suicide every day and more than half a million LGBTQ youth will attempt suicide this year alone,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said. “A shorter, simpler suicide hotline number could be a game-changer.”
The FCC determined that it would be better to have a new number that’s only for the hotline, rather than one that’s currently used for other purposes, such as 911. Advocates say that having a dedicated number, along with a message that mental health is of equivalent importance as medical emergencies, could help reduce the stigma of calling the number.
Although 988 won’t be available by text, there are other texting services available. Lines for Life offers a text service by texting 273TALK to 839863.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)