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It Will Soon Be Much Easier to Call Suicide Hotline

FCC plans to set up '988' as national suicide prevention hotline number
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 12, 2019 1:15 PM CST
In this Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019, photo, a man uses a cell phone in New Orleans.   (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)

(Newser) – In most emergencies, you only need to dial three digits to get help: 911. But for people considering suicide, it takes a lot more digits than that to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Thanks to a proposal advanced Thursday by the Federal Communications Commission, that will soon change. The FCC voted to implement '988' as the new number for the hotline, similar to how 911 is used to call emergency services and 311 is used to call city services, the AP reports. What follows: a comment period, a process that could take months before the FCC moves to a final vote, then an estimated 18 months to implement the plan. "We’ll be able to call 988 when we have a mental health emergency," a crisis intervention advocate tells Axios. "I think that is going to de-stigmatize the idea."

He adds that even more people could be helped if the Lifeline added the ability to text. (Axios notes Crisis Text Line connects people with a crisis counselor if they text 741741.) Currently, the Lifeline uses the number 800-273-TALK (8255) and routes callers to one of 163 crisis centers across the country. As suicide rates increase across the US (in half of all states, they increased by more than 30% over two decades), the FCC expects the shorter number to increase calls. Last year, the Lifeline answered 2.2 million, more than double what it got in 2012. If that number doubles, crisis centers would need an additional $50 million per year in funding, the agency said. More than 47,000 people died by suicide in 2017, making it the US' 10th leading cause of death. (Read more suicide prevention stories.)

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