During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a spike in suicides – a growing national problem that has only been magnified during a global pandemic.
On Thursday (July 16), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unanimously approved a three-digit number for those in need of help to connect with suicide prevention and mental health crisis counselors.
On or before July 16, 2022, people will be able to dial 988 to be directly connected to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which currently uses a 10-digit number (800-273-8255).
Despite suicide being the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, limited resources are dedicated to combat mental illness. It is estimated that 1.4 million Americans attempt suicide every year. It is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 to 34 and the fourth leading cause of death among people ages 35 to 54, according to data recorded by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In a statement regarding its decision, the FCC said, “Establishing the easy-to-remember 988 as the 911 for suicide prevention and mental health services will make it easier for Americans in crisis to access the help they need and decrease the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health issues.”
All phone service providers will be required to direct all 988 calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which was established in 2005 by the United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The FCC decision will be forwarded to Congress, which is expected to pass the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which will provide the funding mechanism, authority and infrastructure to make 988 services available nationwide.
At a time when suicide, especially among the young, is rising, having an easy way to access the needed assistance to prevent making a final decision that can’t be undone could be a game-changer in dealing with mental health issues. With lives at stake, 988 could be a life-saver for many in crisis.