News & Opinion | July 21, 2020 10:30 am

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to Be Shortened to 988

The FCC wants 988 to be the 911 of suicide prevention

suicide prevention lifeline
The FCC hopes a shorter number will make the suicide prevention lifeline easier to remember and access.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Federal Communications Commission has approved 988 as a shorter, three-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The new, easier-to-remember number, unanimously approved by the FCC last week, hopes to make it easier for Americans to seek help for themselves or loved ones.

“Establishing the easy-to-remember 988 as the ‘911’ for suicide prevention and mental health services will make it easier for Americans in crisis to access the help they need,” FCC chair Ajit Pai said in a statement. “Additionally, this achievement, and all the efforts to publicize 988 in the time to come, will reduce the stigma in our society surrounding suicide and mental illness.”

Phone service providers will have until July 2022 to activate the new number, while the current number, 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK), will remain in effect.

While the new, shorter number hopes to make it easier for callers to seek help, the 988 number will not work via text — a limitation FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called out as significant, especially for teens and young people in crisis.

“In light of the skyrocketing rates of suicide among our nation’s young people, I think this agency should have been more ambitious,” Rosenworcel said in a statement. “As we confront the rise in suicide by teenagers across the country, we should acknowledge that texting is their primary form of communication. Voice service has its benefits, but it is not native for most young people. So I regret today’s decision is anchored in older technologies and takes a pass on developing texting capabilities with this three-digit hotline. We should have done so here. I sincerely hope we can do so in the future.”

Regardless, the move to increase access to the hotline comes at a time of great need. Over the past few months, suicide prevention hotlines around the country have seen an, unfortunately unsurprising, surge in calls as the pandemic and its surrounding consequences force more Americans into a state of crisis.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or text HOME to 741-741 for free, text-based support from the Crisis Text Line.

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