The FCC Just Approved A 3-Digit Suicide Hotline

by Christina Marfice
Nina P/Reshot

The FCC just approved 988 as a 3-digit number people can dial to reach a national suicide hotline

When people need help the most, they may soon be able to dial just three digits on their phone to get it. This week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved a plan to create a three-digit number — 988 — that people can dial to reach a national suicide hotline.

Before the new number is officially adopted, it has to go up for public comments. But after the FCC’s unanimous decision, it seems likely that this will become a reality. The idea behind it was to follow the example of 911 and create a number that’s easy to remember and fast to dial that would immediately connect people to help when they need it.

“988 has an echo of the 911 number we all know as an emergency number,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said during the commission’s meeting about the proposed change.”And we believe that this three-digit number dedicated for this purpose will help ease access to crisis services, it will reduce the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health conditions, and ultimately it will save lives.”

What the FCC’s decision means is that if the public comment period goes well and this plan gets adopted, people in crisis who dial 988 will have their calls automatically redirected to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a suicide hotline network comprised of 163 crisis centers located across the country and funded by the Department of Health and Human Services.

This proposed change comes as suicide rates are on a steady rise in the U.S. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for people ages 34-54, and the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-34. Young people in the LGBTQ+ community are at a particularly high risk, according to statistics, which show they may seriously contemplate suicide as much as three times as often as people in the same age group who are heterosexual.

The Trevor Project, a nonprofit that’s working to lower suicide rates for LGBTQ+ teens, has been a big proponent of this proposed change, and praised the FCC in a statement this week.

“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,” the statement said.

The public comment period for the proposed three-digit suicide hotline number is open, and you can leave your comment at the FCC’s website. With enough public support, this number will become a reality, and it could very well save lives.