988 will go into effect in 2022.

Caroline Goldstein
Jul 24, 2020 @ 11:36 am
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Credit: ANWAR AMRO, Getty Images

In a unanimous vote, FCC commissioners approved the proposal to establish a three-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which will make it infinitely easier for those struggling with suicidal thoughts to get help ASAP.  Currently, the number to reach the hotline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). In two years’ time, that number will change to 988.

The FCC originally introduced the proposal in August 2019. But for many Americans, recent events (i.e., all of 2020) has had a significant impact on their mental health—which, for the FCC, only served to underscore the importance of making mental health care easily accessible for all. As USA Today reports, some of the commissioners voting on the proposal “acknowledged the strains caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the compounded effect of George Floyd’s death and protests that ensued.”

According to The Washington Post, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll revealed that almost half of Americans report that the coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health.

The Post also reports that a “federal emergency hotline for people in emotional distress” saw a 1,000% uptick in calls in April 2020 from April 2019.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai also acknowledged that suicide disproportionately affects BIPOC, LGBTQ+, rural Americans, and other marginalized groups. There is a major disparity in the quality and accessibility of healthcare services among minority or marginalized communities, too. What’s so crucial about the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is that its life-saving services are entirely free. 

“We hope any American in a suicide crisis will come to know that 988 is the number to call for immediate help and assistance,” Pai said at the FCC’s open meeting on Thursday, July 22nd. “With the implementation, we anticipate that many more Americans will receive help from suicide prevention and many more lives will be saved.”

Moreover, the movie to an "easy-to-remember," three-digit number could help reduce the stigma around mental health crises and suicidal ideation, an FCC press release noted.

The 988 number will go into effect on July 16, 2022. Until then, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline’s original number remains accessible 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).