Chairman Pai Suggests 988 Be Made Suicide Prevention Hotline Nationwide

By: Henry Rademacher

On November 19, 2019, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai proposed that the FCC “begin a rulemaking to establish 988 as a new, nationwide, three-digit phone number for a suicide prevention and mental health hotline.”

Earlier this year, FCC staff recommended that this action be taken, stating that it “would likely make it easier for Americans in crisis to access potentially life-saving resources.” A report detailing their findings was sent to Congress as well.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is operated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a branch of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Chairman Pai’s proposal would “require that all phone companies transmit all calls to 988 to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which today provides suicide prevention assistance at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) and through online chats.” Over 2.2 million calls and 100,000 online chats of this nature were processed in 2018 alone.

Suicide and mental health problems have received increased visibility in the past few years, causing authorities to search for better solutions. Calls to suicide crisis centers doubled between 2014 and 2018.

“When it comes to saving lives, time is of the essence, and we believe that 988 can be activated more quickly than other possible three-digit codes,” said Chairman Pai.

Although it is a universal issue, suicide is more likely to impact certain communities, including soldiers, Native Americans and members of the LGBTQ community. Regarding the need for action, Chairman Pai stated “The suicide rate in the United States is at its highest level since World War II and designating 988 as the suicide prevention and mental health hotline would be a major boost for our nation’s suicide prevention efforts.”

The proposal has support from both Senator Cory Gardner and Congressman Seth Moulton, as well as from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Council for Behavioral Health, Centerstone and the Trevor Project.

The FCC will vote on this proposal on December 12 at its next public meeting. Hopefully, it will be impactful on reducing suicide rates.

Photo credit: newkemall (Flickr)