New National Suicide Hotline 988 Goes Live

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Sometimes the government actually listens and helps: The Federal Communication Commissioner Ajit Pai has championed the creation of a national, three-digit phone number, 988, 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 with epidemic level suicides impacting law enforcement, first responders, and military veterans that are in the news and all over the social media platforms. Suicides outside of those segments is 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 an extensive public relations and marketing campaign to raise awareness, prompting 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 was the 10 million-plus American adults who seriously contemplated committing suicide and 1.5 million who attempted it. Suicide rates have continued to rise since World War II and sadly 47,000 die annually 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 savings 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 911. The 988 will be synonymous with “I need help right now.”

All major telecoms, cellular, and VOIP carriers will be building out the infrastructure to support the 988 functionalities. The original timeframe expected of 18 months was surpassed, an unusually rapid deployment for government.

The FCC held public hearings all across the country, analyzed data from all the carriers, and set the plan in motion.  As of today dialing 988 connects all Americans to a trained professional at a crisis help center.

Making 988 a reality was a joint undertaken of the FCC and citizens like you.

You can contact the FCC to let them know you appreciate their understanding of the magnitude of the problem and creating the solution at  fcc.gov/about/contact or call 1-888-CALL FCC (225-5322)   

It is okay to not be okay. Help is available. Dial 988.

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