An FCC Report is recommending that the ten-digit suicide prevention lifeline, 1-800-273-8255, be shortened to the easier to remember three-digit number, 988. The FCC report says the current number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline was called more than 2.2 million times in 2018.
The agency found that in making a change, 988 could be implemented more quickly than repurposing an existing three-digit N11 code like 511 or 611.
Along with that recommendation is that the call center be adequately funded. Smaller call centers are having to close due to lack of funding at a critical point when suicide rates are rising.
The problem is worse when there is a celebrity suicide. I recognize that. Last summer when Kate Spade and then Anthony Bourdain died by suicide, visits to a specific page on this website rose by 7.5 times. Those celebrity suicides trigger vulnerable individuals and we want them to call crisis lines but for them to be effective, they have to be able to scale up during times of crisis and that takes adequate funding. Because we do know that crisis centers save lives.
Currently, during peak times people are put on hold and transferred to local crisis centers. It’s not always ideal. And it’s not because those that work there don’t care. It’s simply that they are short staffed.
I would encourage everyone to also know their local suicide or crisis lines. Here is a list of those in Virginia, statewide and central Virginia.
“There is a suicide epidemic in this country, and it is disproportionately affecting at-risk populations, including our Veterans and LGBTQ youth,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “Crisis call centers have been shown to save lives. This report recommends using a three-digit number to make it easier to access the critical suicide prevention and mental health services these call centers provide.”
It’s likely to be months before it’s final approval and then months before it will be implemented but this is a huge step in suicide prevention that has needed to happen.