FCC to set up 3-digit suicide prevention hotline similar to 911

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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.

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.

"When you're in a health emergency, a physical health emergency you don't always recall your primary care doctors number, but you can remember 911. If you're in a mental health crisis, I think it would be a lot easier for us to remember a three-digit code than a long 1-800 number," said licensed professional counselor Portia Hines.

The Federal Communications Commission unanimously voted to set up a new hotline that will connect callers to experts in suicide prevention and mental health. Portia Hines says this is breaking down barriers to get help.

"Instead of having to schedule an appointment and wait for the appointment to come around there will be immediate access with some type of guidance," said Hines.

The proposed number, 988, will link callers to an already existing network of 163 crisis centers around the country. Mental health professionals are praising the proposal.

"Having resources available to any individual who is contemplating suicide or thinking about suicide is extremely important right now," said WellStone Divisions Director Jasmine Butler.

The FCC will seek comment on all aspects of implementation, including whether a longer or shorter time frame, would be needed to make 988 a reality.

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.

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