by Brandon Voss
What if your emergency is something 911 can’t handle?
The Federal Communications Commission unanimously voted this week to adopt a proposal to set up a new three-digit nationwide hotline connecting callers to experts in suicide prevention and mental health, NPR reports.
The proposed number, 988, would more efficiently let Americans reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is funded by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, an existing network of 163 call centers around the country, is already accessible online or by calling 1-800-273-TALK.
“This designation will help ease access to crisis services, reduce the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health conditions, and ultimately save lives,” the FCC writes of the 988 proposal. An earlier FCC report argued that a three-digit suicide hotline number, similar to 911, would “make it easier for Americans in crisis to access potentially life-saving resources.”
Congress requested the report as part of the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act, a bipartisan bill that was passed and signed into law last year. This legislation would allow states to collect fees in support of the 988 plan.
The unanimous FCC vote, which now opens up a period of public comment, marks a major step forward in implementing the proposal. The plan estimates an 18-month time frame for making 988 a reality.
“Our hearts go out to those who are struggling, and we hope to move as quickly as we can in order to help them get the help they need and deserve,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement.
FCC notes that last year National Suicide Prevention Lifeline counselors answered more than 2.2 million calls and 100,000 online chats. SAMHSA research shows “callers were significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful” after communicating with counselors.
“More than 47,000 Americans died by suicide and more than 1.4 million adults attempted suicide” in 2017, according to SAMHSA, which specifies LGBTQ youth as a particularly vulnerable at-risk population.
“The Trevor Project applauds the FCC for unanimously approving the proposal to adopt 988 as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number,” says Sam Brinton, Head of Advocacy and Government Affairs for the LGBTQ suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization. “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. 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.”
According to a recent report from The Trevor Project, more than a third (39%) of LGBTQ youth in the U.S. seriously considered suicide in the past year. That figure rose to more than half for trans and nonbinary youth.
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