Dial 988 Planned as National Suicide Prevention Hotline

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Sometimes the government actually listens and helps. 

Federal Communication Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai has championed the creation of a three-digit national phone number for those in critical circumstances and looking for help. Suicide prevention has risen to the American consciousness, which is a good thing. The interest correlates to the epidemic-level suicides impacting law enforcement, first responders, and military veterans. Suicides outside of those segments are also on the rise.  

Prior to the establishment of the 988 national number, those seeking help would have to dial a 10-digit number, 800-273-TALK (if they even knew it) to access help. The new number will be subject to extensive public relations and marketing campaigns to raise awareness and prompt those in crisis to use it and quickly get connected to help.

The importance of this change cannot be overstated and is driven by the numbers. In 2018 more than 2.2 million calls were received by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 163 crisis centers around the country. Also considered were the 10 million-plus American adults who seriously contemplated committing suicide and 1.4 million who attempted it. Suicide rates have continued to rise since World War II; in 2018, more than 47,000 people died by suicide.

Making it easier for the millions of those in need was the exact focus of this major development.  The existing 1-800-273-TALK is and has been saving lives and will remain active during the transition period and beyond. The 988 number will be a faster way for those at a most critical time. This author believes that using the “9” number equates to the same psychology as using 911. Calling 988 will be synonymous with saying, “I need help right now.”

All major telecoms, cellular, and Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP/phone service over the internet) will be building out the infrastructure to support the 988 functionalities. The expected time frame will be 18 months but there is optimism that the period will be shorter.

The FCC is required to have public comment and analyze and foster the projected implementation to bring 988 live across the country. Making 988 a reality is the responsibility of all of us. Please contact the FCC at fcc.gov/about/contact or call 1-888-CALL FCC (225-5322) to encourage the rapid implementation of 988.

 Greg Demetriou is CEO of Lorraine Gregory Communications.

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