FCC approves 988 as new 3-digit national suicide hotline

The change is scheduled to go into effect in 2022.

The United States soon will have a three-digit number for people to call to connect with suicide prevention and mental health crisis counselors.

The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously Thursday to make 988 the number people can call to be connected directly to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, which currently uses a 10-digit number -- 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).

"Far too many Americans are lost each year to suicide," Elinore McCance-Katz, a psychiatrist and the assistant secretary of Health and Human Services for mental health and substance abuse, said Thursday at the FCC hearing. "Yet we hear relatively little about this."

"And unfortunately, though suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among Americans, very few resources are made available to address the situation, either at a national or a local level," she said. "That is why today is such an important step."

Around 1.4 million people in the U.S. are estimated to attempt suicide every year. It's the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34, the fourth leading among people 35 to 54 and the eighth leading for those 55 to 64, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

All phone service providers will be required to direct all 988 calls to the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by July 16, 2022, according to the FCC.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline was launched in 2005 by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration as a free and confidential service available 24/7.

It is composed of a national network of more than 170 local crisis centers, according to its website.

Vibrant Emotional Health, which administers the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, called the FCC's vote a "vital step forward." The company's president also called on Congress to pass funding for the new 988 number.

"This is a vital step forward that will increase accessibility of support services for individuals experiencing mental health distress. It will help save to lives," Vibrant’s President and CEO Kim Williams said in a statement. "America now needs Congress to act on final passage of The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which will provide the funding mechanism, authority and infrastructure needed to make 988 available across the country."

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. You can reach Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 (U.S.) or 877-330-6366 (Canada) and The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386.

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