December 14, 2019 at 3:06 pm PST | by Staff reports
988 is the new national Suicide Prevention Hotline

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday Dec. 12 issued a ‘Notice of Proposed Rulemaking’ commencing the requisite process to require American telecommunication carriers and and interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service providers to establish 988 as the new, nationwide, 3-digit number hotline for suicide prevention and mental health crisis.

“The FCC was mandated by Congressional passage of the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018 to ensure that telecommunication companies would establish 988 as a simple but effective way for Americans experiencing a mental health crisis or who had thoughts of suicide to reach out for help,” Will Wiquist, an FCC spokesperson told the Los Angeles Blade Friday.

With the documented rise in suicide rates across the United States since 1999, in some states as much as 20% greater, a simple three digit solution speeds up access to critical services which would ultimately save lives,” he added.

Calls to 988 would be directed to the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a national network of 163 crisis centers that is funded by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).  Currently, the Lifeline is available by calling 1-800-273-TALK and through online chats.  In 2018, trained Lifeline counselors answered over 2.2 million calls and over 100,000 online chats. 

A report by the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau Office of Economics and Analytics released this past August 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.  It also noted that suicide rates are higher across various at-risk populations, including Veterans and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) communities.  

“The Trevor Project applauds the FCC for unanimously approving the proposal to adopt 988 as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number. Shortening the Lifeline number to three digits, along with transferring calls to those who can best serve high-risk populations like LGBTQ youth—who are more than four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers—will save lives,” a spokesperson for the Trevor Project wrote in an emailed statement. “It is critically important that this proposal is implemented as swiftly as possible and that all Lifeline counselors are provided with LGBTQ cultural competency training to best serve LGBTQ youth in crisis.”

The Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth between the ages of 13 and 24 in the U.S. seriously consider suicide each year. In the organization’s National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2019, 39% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past twelve months, with more than half of transgender and non-binary youth having seriously considered.

The FCC’s August report found that the technical and operational issues associated with implementing 988 could be addressed and resolved more quickly than any consumer re-education efforts needed to repurpose an already existing 3 digit special designated number.

The Commission will begin taking public comment on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking following publication in the Federal Register.  Following review of that public record, the Commission will move toward final rules.

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