Stella Maxwell
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FCC Advances Plan for 9-8-8, a National Suicide Prevention Hotline

988

The Federal Communications Commission moved forward Tuesday with plans to establish 988 as the nationwide hotline number for suicide prevention and other mental health crisis services.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai presented his colleagues with draft rules for the setup of the three-digit number, which is meant to provide ease of access for people in need. The rules, if adopted by the commission at its July 16 Open Meeting, would require all phone service providers to begin directing all 988 calls to the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by July 16, 2022. 

“988 will save lives. Helping Americans in crisis connect to counselors trained in suicide prevention is one of the most important things we can do at the FCC,” Pai said in a press release from the commission. “We believe that 988 — which has an echo of the 911 number we all know as an emergency number — will help people access mental health services. Establishing this special purpose number will also highlight the urgency of addressing rising suicide rates in America and reduce the stigma too often associated with seeking assistance from suicide prevention and mental health services. I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting these final rules. By doing so, we would send a message to every American: You are not alone.”

The Trevor Project, which assists LGBTQ+ youth in crisis, praised the move.

“The Trevor Project commends the FCC for moving forward with the implementation of 9-8-8 on an efficient two-year timeline,” said a statement released by Sam Brinton, vice president of advocacy and government affairs. “Suicide remains the second leading cause of death among young people, and LGBTQ youth are at increased risk. Americans in crisis cannot wait. We also applaud the FCC’s continued support for specialized services for LGBTQ youth. Moving forward, we call on the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the National Suicide Hotline Implementation Act, which includes a number of important provisions including requirements for LGBTQ cultural competency training for existing counselors and the establishment of an Integrated Voice Response option for LGBTQ youth to reach specialized care. It has never been more clear that our national mental health infrastructure requires reinforcement and innovation to meet the growing need. We look forward to working with the FCC and Congress to meet the challenge and save lives.”

Research shows that LGBTQ+ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide as their peers, according to the Trevor Project. The group estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ+ youth between the ages of 13 and 24 in the U.S. seriously consider suicide each year. In the organization’s 2019 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 87 percent of LGBTQ+ youth said it was important to them to reach out to a crisis intervention organization that focuses on their population.

While the transition to the new number takes place, the FCC advises Americans who need help to continue to contact the Lifeline by calling (800) 273-8255 ([800] 273-TALK) and through online chats.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of approximately 170 crisis centers. The centers are supported by local and state, public and private sources as well as with congressional appropriations through the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 

If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at (877) 565-8860. LGBTQ youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at (866) 488-7386. You can also access chat services at TheTrevorProject.org/Help or text START to 678678. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 can be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities.

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