FCC votes to include texting in upcoming suicide prevention lifeline, 988

A 988 number is already in the works, slated to go live in July.

November 18, 2021, 12:21 PM

With the pandemic exacerbating the nation's mental health crisis, the Federal Communications Commission voted to expand a forthcoming 988 suicide lifeline to include an option to text the hotline, in addition to making a phone call.

Experts argue that for people experiencing mental health distress, the easier it is to reach the suicide prevention lifeline, the better. And many people prefer to text rather than call.

"We know that not everyone may be able to make a phone call or be comfortable making a phone call. The ability to text 988 makes it easier for more people to easily access help during a mental health crisis," said Hannah Wesolowski, interim director of government relations, policy & advocacy for National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Text message providers will now be required to support text messaging to 988 starting July 2022.

A national suicide prevention lifeline already exists, as the 10-digit number 1-800-273-8255 [TALK]. For years, advocates have been arguing for a simple, three-digit number, akin to 911, for people to call if they are in a mental health crisis.

This easier-to-dial 988 number is already in the works, slated to go live on July 16, 2022. Currently, the forthcoming 988 number will only support phone calls.

PHOTO: A man uses a cell phone in New Orleans, Aug. 11, 2019.
A man uses a cell phone in New Orleans, Aug. 11, 2019.
Jenny Kane/AP, FILE

The move expands access to the lifeline for all Americans, including many teens who may prefer to text. Last month, the nation's top pediatric medical associations declared children's mental health challenges during the pandemic a "national emergency."

"We applaud the FCC’s decision to require telecommunication providers to support text messaging to 988," Wesolowski said. "This option will support at-risk communities, including youth and young adults, marginalized and underserved populations, and individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind, or have speech disabilities."

Currently, people can text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741) or can initiate an online chat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/.

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or worried about a friend or loved one help is available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 [TALK] - for free confidential emotional support 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Even if it feels like it – you are not alone.