FCC votes to make '988' the suicide hotline number

The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to make "988" the "911" for suicide prevention.

The new number is designed to connect Americans in crisis directly with a suicide prevention hotline.

Phone service providers will have until July 2022 to implement the change.

Currently, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline uses a 10-digit number, 800-273-TALK (8255), which routes calls to about 170 crisis centers. That 800 number will remain in place, but having the shorter number makes it easier for people to call, and is expected to lead to an increase in calls to the hotline.

Suicide-prevention experts have said that the three-digit number will be a breakthrough that helps people in crisis. One aspect of designating a three-digit number for the hotline, just like 911 for emergencies, is that it removes stigma for seeking help in a mental-health emergency, they say.

The government's action comes as suicide rates have increased across the U.S. over the past two decades. Officials say suicide claimed the lives of more than 48,000 Americans in 2018, resulting in about one death every 11 minutes.

The coronavirus pandemic has put even more strain on the nation's mental health care system, and experts have been concerned about the impact as the virus and its aftershocks may deepen people's levels of anxiety and depression.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. You can reach Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 (U.S.) or 877-330-6366 (Canada) and The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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