FCC votes in July to make ‘988’ the suicide hotline number

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Federal regulators will vote in July on whether “988” should be the number to reach a suicide prevention hotline.

The Federal Communications Commission says telephone service providers will have until July 2022 to implement the new number, if the measure is approved in July as expected.

Once it is in place, people can call 988 to seek help, such as how to call 911 for an emergency. Currently, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline uses a 10-digit number, 800-273-TALK (8255), which forwards calls to about 170 crisis centers.

That 800 number will be retained, but the shorter number will make it easier for people to make calls, and this is expected to increase the number of calls to the hotline.

Suicide prevention experts have said the three-digit number will be a breakthrough helping people in crisis. One aspect of designating a three-digit number for the hotline, like 911 for emergencies, is that it takes away the stigma of seeking help in a mental health emergency, they say.

Government action is because suicide rates in the United States have increased over the past two decades. The coronavirus pandemic has put even more pressure on the country’s mental health care system, and experts are concerned about its consequences as the virus and aftershocks can increase people’s anxiety and depression.

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