FCC chairman proposes 988 for National Suicide Prevention & Mental Health Hotline

Nov. 20, 2019

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai proposed to begin a rulemaking to establish 988 as a new, nationwide, three-digit phone number for a suicide prevention and mental health hotline. The Commission will vote on this proposal at its Dec. 12 public meeting. 

“The suicide rate in the U.S. 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,” said Chairman Pai at an event today with federal agency partners and national leaders in preventing suicide and helping at-risk communities.  “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. In addition, 988 has an echo of the 911 number we all know as an emergency number. Awareness of this resource—including how memorable the number is—should make a real difference in saving lives.”

The Chairman’s proposal would also 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. The Lifeline is a national network of 163 crisis centers that is funded by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Calls to the Lifeline are routed from anywhere in the U.S. to the closest certified crisis center. In 2018, trained Lifeline counselors answered over 2.2 million calls and over 100,000 online chats. 

The National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018 directed the FCC, in consultation with the SAMHSA, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the North American Numbering Council, to study the feasibility of using a simple, easy-to-remember three-digit number for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline system. In August, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau and Office of Economics and Analytics sent this report to Congress, recommending 988 as the new three-digit dialing code and finding that such a three-digit number “would likely make it easier for Americans in crisis to access potentially life-saving resources.” 

If the proposed Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is adopted by a vote of the full Commission at its Dec. 12 Open Commission Meeting, the Commission will begin taking public comment on the proposal. Following review of that public record, the Commission will decide whether and how to proceed with final rules to formally designate 988 as the nationwide phone number for suicide prevention and mental health support.

FCC has the release.