Suicide Prevention Hotline to Be Shortened to 988

Source: Ion Chiosia - 123RF

Since 2008, suicide has been ranked as the 10th leading cause of death in all states. According to the CDC, from 1999 to 2016, suicide increased in 49 of 50 states, and in half of those states, the increase was greater than 20%. Many groups–such as veterans, teens, and young adults–are especially at risk.

According to the CDC, mental health disorders are among the most burdensome health concerns in the United States. Nearly 1 in 5 US adults aged 18 or older (18.3% or 44.7 million people) reported any mental illness in 2016.

In addition, 71% of adults reported at least one symptom of stress, such as a headache or feeling overwhelmed or anxious.

Poor mental health and stress can negatively affect an employee in the following ways:

  • Job performance and productivity;
  • Engagement with one’s work;
  • Communication with coworkers; and
  • Physical capability and daily functioning.

Mental illnesses such as depression are associated with higher rates of disability and unemployment.

  • Depression interferes with a person’s ability to complete physical job tasks about 20% of the time and reduces cognitive performance by about 35% of the time.
  • Only 57% of employees who report moderate depression and 40% of those who report severe depression receive treatment to control depression symptoms.

Even after taking other health risks—like smoking and obesity—into account, employees at high risk of depression had the highest health care costs during the 3 years after an initial health risk assessment.

Suicide prevention & mental health are urgent and important matters that should be addressed whenever someone needs help. However, people often do not know where to find help, or may go without it.

Brendan Carr, a Commissioner of the FCC, states, “Suicide and mental health issues have received far too little attention for far too long. That is now changing. And, importantly, the conversation about mental health is changing.”

These issues are finally getting more awareness and support with a new proposal Congress enacted in 2018 and the FCC is bringing to fruition.

In 2018, in recognition of the need to ease access to potentially lifesaving resources, congress passed the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018. That statute tasked the FCC with examining and reporting on the technical feasibility of designating a shorter number than 1-800-273-8255 as the National Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Crisis Hotline.

Last year, the 800-number answered 2.2 million calls and the website answered 100,000 online chats from 163 crisis centers across the US.

Per an FCC Statement on November 19, 2019, the FCC and Wireline Competition Bureau recommended adopting the three-digit dialing code 988 to replace the 800-number. 988 is easy to remember because it is short and mirrors the already familiar 911 emergency number.

Ms. Kris Anne Monteith, the Chief of Wireline Competition Bureau, believes, “…[988 will] ease access to crisis services, reduce the stigma surrounding suicide and mental conditions, and improve the effectiveness of suicide prevention efforts.”

On December 12, 2019, the Wireline Competition Bureau proposed a notice that–within 18 months–all telecommunications carriers and interconnected VOIP service providers be required to make sure that users can dial 988 from anywhere in the country. That means the 988 number could become a reality by 2021.

SUN News asked the FCC’s Will Wiquist:

  • If the proposal had passed on Dec.12th;
  • If texting will be included on the hotline; and
  • When the public will be able to use the 988 number.

He replied that “the Commission adopted the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in December. That starts a public comment period. After that, our staff will review the comments made and then can move forward on final rules. One of the questions we asked which we’re taking comments on is texting. I don’t know a timeline for implementation. We are committed to moving forward on our part of this process–the phone number–as quickly as possible.”

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