August 16, 2019
Following five and a half years of hard work and perseverance by the Utah Attorney General’s Office and Utah state and federal legislators, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans to move forward with changing the ten-digit national suicide hotline to a three-digit number – 988. The hotline will also be available to those who are struggling with mental health crises of any kind.
Yesterday afternoon, the Federal Communications Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau and Office of Economics and Analytics announced that they sent a report to Congress which recommends that the Commission consider designating 988 as a replacement to the current number, 1-800-273-8255.
This follows the 2018 report on the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018 which recommended that a three-digit number should be used for the crisis hotline. Suicide and mental health numbers have increased over the years, causing an influx of callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. According to the FCC, 2.2 million people called the hotline in 2018.
“Our team found that a 3-digit number would make it easier for Americans in crisis to reach someone who could help,” Ajit Pai, the FCC’s chairman, said in an email statement on Thursday night. “If we can stand up ‘988’ nationwide as a way to access suicide prevention services, we believe it could save lives. I’ll do everything I can to move this forward.”
Utah Senator Dan Thatcher first conceived the idea for a three-digit suicide prevention line in 2012, but it didn’t gain traction in the Legislature at that time. Senator Thatcher partnered with the Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes, Wade Farraway, Missy Larsen, and others at the Utah Attorney General’s Office in 2014. The group started the SafeUT app as a way to reach Utahns in crisis while still campaigning for the three-digit number. In 2017, the group enlisted the help of Rep. Chris Stewart and Sen. Orrin Hatch, who presented the idea on the federal level. This has led to the recommendation of the three-digit number 988.
The change has not yet been implemented and will have a months-long process. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or contemplating suicide, please use the SafeUT app to speak with a crisis counselor for free or call 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).