Why it matters: The FCC is proposing the designation of a three-digit dialing code (988) as a dedicated suicide prevention and mental health hotline. When dialed, callers will be connected with crisis counselors.

In a report mandated by the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act (NSHIA) of 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) informed Congress it would be assigning the dialing code 988 as a suicide prevention number. The change would make it much easier for Americans to access these counseling services during critical times in their life.

“Designating a 3-digit code dedicated solely for the purpose of a national suicide prevention and mental health hotline would likely make it easier for Americans in crisis to access potentially life-saving resources,” reads the report, which was issued on Thursday.

Currently, the NSHIA is serviced by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which has a ten-digit toll-free number. The new dialing code would not adversely affect the service provider, but would instead give people an additional easy-to-remember way to contact it.

"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 change does not require congressional approval. The FCC has the authority to designate dialing codes like this one as it sees fit. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has already declared that he will move forward with the plan.

“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. I intend to move forward on this recommendation.”

It is not a bad idea. Those in crisis may not have the will to look up a suicide hotline number, but everyone can remember 988. The new code would surely see some use. As the FCC points out in its report, in 2018 alone, more than 2.2 million people placed calls to the current ten-digit hotline number.

Having a simple three-digit code that someone can easily remember and quickly dial could save their life. Until the number is implemented, those in crisis should continue dialing 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).

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