Dial 988: This 3-Digit Suicide Prevention Hotline Number Is One Step Closer to Reality

· Dec. 12, 2019, 12:15 pm
In this Aug. 11, 2019, file photo, a man uses a cell phone in New Orleans.In this Aug. 11, 2019, file photo, a man uses a cell phone in New Orleans.Jenny Kane/AP Photos
In this Aug. 11, 2019, file photo, a man uses a cell phone in New Orleans. The Federal Communications Commission is setting up a new three-digit number to reach a suicide prevention hotline. 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.

Efforts to create a national three-digit suicide prevention hotline number is advancing on two fronts in Washington, D.C.

The idea for the line is similar to the thinking behind 911 — in crisis situations, help is more likely to arrive in time if people only have to remember one short number rather than looking up a 10-digit number. 

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday approved a proposed rule that would make 988 the simple number to connect to a network of 163 crisis centers across the country.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the number could be a “game changer” for people in crisis.

“We believe that this three-digit number dedicated for this purpose will help ease access to crisis services. It will reduce the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health conditions and ultimately it will save lives,” Pai said.  

The notice proposes requiring telecommunications companies make changes within 18 months to ensure users can dial 988 and reach the hotline. It also seeks comment on implementation of whether a longer or shorter time frame is needed to make 988 a reality.

The FCC vote comes a day after a bill calling for the same actions, championed by Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, advanced out of a key Senate committee.

In a statement, Gardner said “I applaud the FCC’s action, and I will continue working with my colleagues to establish the 9-8-8 suicide hotline and ensure critical mental health support is three buttons away.”

The Senate bill provides additional funding to support the hotline number. It also includes a provision requiring a report with recommendations to specifically help LGBTQ youth, who are “four times more likely to contemplate suicide than their peers.”

If you are in crisis or are looking for mental health services for you or someone you know, call the Colorado Crisis Services hotline. Call 1-844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255 to speak with a trained counselor or professional. Counselors are also available at walk-in locations or online to chat between 4 p.m. and 12 a.m.

The next step for Gardner’s bill is a vote on the full Senate floor.

Gardner and other members of the Colorado congressional delegation have supported a number of bills and measures this year bolstering suicide prevention efforts, with many targeted at youth and veterans.

Earlier this week, Gardner joined a bipartisan group in the Senate and the House that introduced legislation to start a grant program to improve suicide risk screening and prevention practices in emergency departments.

“Data shows that around 40 percent of people who die by suicide visited an emergency department in the year leading up to their death,” Gardner said.  “This bipartisan legislation will help emergency department professionals identify and treat patients with a high risk of suicide, improving prevention.”

In 2018, 21 of every 100,000 deaths in Colorado were by suicide, far exceeding the national average of 13.9, according to the most recent United Health Foundation report. Suicide is the leading cause of death in Colorado for youths age 10 to 24.

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