Dial 988: What You Need to Know About the FCC's New Suicide Lifeline

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted to make 988 the nationwide 3-digit number to dial in order to connect to the suicide prevention and mental health hotline.

The FCC just adopted rules to establish ‘988’ as the new, nationwide, 3-digit phone number for the suicide prevention and mental health hotline. #SuicidePrevention #OpenMtgFCC #FCCLive

— The FCC (@FCC) July 16, 2020

The FCC announced that it had adopted the new number in a tweet on Thursday.

According to a press release, the new regulation will require every phone service provider in the United States connect people to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if they dial 988.

The new regulation requires service providers to make the changes over the next two years, acknowledging the challenges of the change and the predicted uptick in calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. During the two year period, Americans seeking help for suicidal thoughts should continue to call the lifeline's 1-800-273-TALK number. Providers will be required to have the transition complete by July 16, 2022. The 800-number will still be available after the transition is completed.

In a statement, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said that making the number easier to access is critical. "Suicidal thoughts don't inevitably lead to action. Help is available, and it can be effective. For example, the Lines for Life crisis center in Portland, Oregon reports that its counselors can de-escalate 95% of suicide-related phone calls without the intervention of emergency services," Pai said. "This is why the FCC's action today is so important."

Likening 988 to 911, Pai said the three-digit number "will make it easier for Americans in crisis to access the help they need," and said that research supports the claim. "Indeed, experts predict that it will result in millions more Americans receiving the intervention services they desperately need. And when more Americans receive these services, we know that more lives will be saved," he said.

Suicide Hotline
One of two crisis hotlines installed on the Rio Grande Bridge. The bridge located near Taos, New Mexico is stands approximately 650 feet above the Rio Grande. The bridge has been the site of more than 115 suicides in the past 20 years. On Thursday, the FCC passed new rules establishing 988 as the national three digit code for the National Suicide Lifeline. Getty/Steven Clevenger

Pai said that the Departments of Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs will do their parts in spreading the word about the new number and help operators prepare for the anticipated uptick in calls.

The number was first proposed to the FCC in December 2019 to "help ease access to crisis services, reduce the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health conditions, and ultimately save lives," according to a press release. In August 2019 report, the number first came about, following Congress passing the "National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018."

In a statement, the Lifeline's administrators, Vibrant Emotional Health, called the designation a "vital step forward" in helping those facing mental health issues and will help to save lives. It also called on Congress for further necessary assistance. "America now needs Congress to act on final passage of The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which will provide the funding mechanism, authority and infrastructure needed to make 988 available across the country," the organization said in a statement.

If you have thoughts of suicide, confidential help is available for free at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-8255.

The line is available 24 hours every day.