Regulators with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) just made it a little easier for people experiencing a mental health crisis to reach out for help.
On Thursday, the federal regulatory agency approved a proposal to create a three-digit phone number for suicide prevention: 988. In a unanimous decision, the FCC voted to begin the rulemaking process, during which time the public can comment on the plan.
If the proposal goes into effect, cell phone and landline providers would have 18 months to roll out the new, shortened number.
The announcement comes on the heels of the passage of the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act in 2018, which called for a federal investigation into whether a simplied code — similar to 911 — would help people experiencing suicidal ideation reach out for support in times of distress. Earlier this year, the FCC concluded that it would expand access to “potentially life-saving resources.”
Suicide prevention organizations applauded the move, predicting the hotline’s implementation would have a disproprtionate impact on the lives of queer and transgender young people.
“Shortening the lifeline number to three digits, along with transferring calls to those who can best serve high-risk populations like [LGBTQ+] youth, who are more than four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers, will save lives,” said Sam Brinton, head of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, in a statement.
Despite tremendous advances in LGBTQ+ acceptance and visibility over the past decade, the national LGBTQ+ nonprofit’s own research has shown that queer and trans youth remain extremely vulnerable to suicidal ideation. Its own research — published earlier this year — found that nearly four in 10 members of this group (or 39 percent) had seriously considered taking their own lives in the past 12 months.
With that in mind, The Trevor Project called upon the FCC to roll out the three-digit code as soon as possible.
“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,” Brinton added.
However, it could be some time before the 988 suicide hotline is available to members of the general public. In addition to the 18 month grace period for phone carriers, it has not been reported when the rulemaking period will close — meaning it could be more than two years before the proposal is fully implemented.
In the meantime, those in crisis can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or The Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386. The Trevor Project also offers text services and online messaging through its site.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide was the second leading cause of death in 2017 among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34.