FCC Approves 988 as Suicide Hotline Number

Valarie Basheda

December 16, 2019

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved using the 3-digit number 988 as a suicide prevention hotline number.

Calls to the number will be directed to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which includes 163 crisis centers. The lifeline is available by calling 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) and through online chats. The center answered more than 2.2 million calls and 100,000 online chats in 2018.

The agency says that in studying the issue, it found that the 3-digit number "would likely make it easier for Americans in crisis to access potentially life-saving resources." Suicide rates increased in 49 of 50 states from 1999 to 2016, with an increase greater than 20% in more than half of those states, the FCC says. Rates are higher across several at-risk populations, including veterans and LGBT communities.

The agency is seeking public comment on the proposal, which could take up to 18 months to fully put into effect.

"Suicide and attendant mental health challenges have received far too little attention for far too long. That is now changing," FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr says in a statement. "Anything we can do to break down barriers, to make it easier for conversations about mental health and counseling to feel within reach, is something we should do."

The CDC says suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with more 47,000 deaths in 2017. And millions of people think about it or attempt suicide. In 2017, 10.6 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.2 million made a plan, and 1.4 million attempted it.

You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) or by online chat.