Suicide Prevention Hotline to Receive Special Three-Digit Number

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Ajit Pai Suicide Prevention Hotline
Ajit Pai Suicide Prevention Hotline

Accessing the Suicide Prevention Hotline will soon be easier than ever.

The Federal Communications Commission intends to proceed with the creation of a special a three-digit number for the national hotline.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced Thursday that one of the final legislative priorities of former Senate President Pro Tempore Orrin G. Hatch of Utah will soon take effect.

Pai said in a statement that he intends to follow a staff recommendation for establishing a special three-digit code, likely 9-8-8, to reach the network of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Callers can currently reach the hotline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). The hotline receives funding through the Health and Human Services Department.

“There is a suicide epidemic in this country, and it is disproportionately affecting at-risk populations, including our Veterans and LGBTQ youth,” 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.”

The statement from the chairman came alongside a report to Congress, specifically to five committees responsible for telecommunications, health and veterans policy.

Alternative solutions were considered

The FCC staff studied several potential choices for the short code before going proceeding with the proposed 9-8-8 number. Other proposals included the repurposing of some of the existing three-digit short codes that end with recognizable 1-1 pattern. The report also mentioned why directing individuals to the hotline via 9-1-1 was not the ideal solution.

“For example, calls to 911 average 2 minutes or less, and 911 call-takers focus on identifying the nature of the emergency and the caller’s location to enable prompt dispatch of appropriate emergency response. Thus, the 911 system is not well-suited to provide suicide prevention counseling or to respond to calls that can be handled through conversation with a trained mental health professional rather than dispatching first responders,” the report stated.

Hatch’s vision is finally becoming a reality. He had urged the House to act on the Senate legislation after the deaths by suicide of both famed chef TV star and Anthony Bourdain, as well as renowned designer Kate Spade. Both passed away in 2018.

“I believe that by making the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline system more user-friendly and accessible, we can save thousands of lives by helping people find the help they need when they need it most,” Hatch said.

The House did pass the bill the next month. Fellow Utah Republican Chris Stewart led the charge. President Donald Trump signed the bill into law in August of 2018. Then, the stage was for Thursday’s announcement by the FCC.

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