The Federal Communications Commission will vote next month to consider establishing “988" as a special 3-digit hotline for suicide prevention, agency Chairman Ajit Pai announced.
The plan, Pai said in a speech at the National Council of Behavioral Health, will help people more easily reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a network of 163 crisis centers.
“Under my proposal, anyone calling 988 would be routed to the established National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is already saving lives,” Pai said.
Currently, people must call 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) to reach suicide prevention assistance. The planned Dec. 12 commission vote will tee up a notice and comment period on the proposal.
Pai said 988 would be easier to remember than the current 10-digit code, and is more similar to the existing 911 emergency number.
“988 has an echo of the 911 number we all know as an emergency number,” Pai said. “Awareness of this resource, including how memorable the number is, should make a real difference when those in dire straits want to reach for a lifeline.”
There were more than 47,000 suicide deaths in the U.S. in 2017, a 33% increase since 1999, Pai said. Veterans and LGBTQ youth are particularly at risk, he said.
“Establishing 988 as a hotline for suicide prevention and mental health services would help so many people,” Pai said. “At this very moment, there are Americans all across this country who are struggling.”