The Federal Communications Commission adopted rules to establish 988 as the new, nationwide, 3-digit phone number for Americans in crisis to connect with suicide prevention and mental health crisis counselors.
"This easy-to-remember number will help hundreds of thousands of individuals across America who are depressed and contemplating suicide," said Betsy E. Huber, National Grange president. "This action is particularly important for rural communities especially vulnerable because of vast shortages of mental health professionals. We have seen the success of 911 and know that 988 will have a similar legacy."
Suicides, Huber said, reverberate throughout rural communities and the suicide rate in rural America is more than 30% higher than in urban areas. "This new health resource has the potential to dramatically help those who are struggling in their most vulnerable moments."
The rules require all phone service providers to direct all 988 calls to the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by July 16, 2022. During the transition to 988, Americans who need help should continue to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK) and through online chats. Veterans and service members may reach the Veterans Crisis Line by pressing 1 after dialing, chatting online at www.veteranscrisisline.net, or texting 838255.
"The move by the FCC makes the telehealth service of the National Suicide Prevention Hotline more accessible and well known, especially in our underserved, over-stressed rural communities," Huber said. "Mental health may be one of the most acutely underserved healthcare areas we have in rural America, where more than three-quarters of rural communities do not have adequate access to mental health providers. By establishing 9-8-8, the FCC clears the way for easy access to vital counseling services that will save lives all across our nation."
The new rules will apply to all telecommunications carriers as well as all interconnected and one-way Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service providers. They provide for a two-year transition, reflecting the real challenges of this nationwide effort, including the need for widespread network changes and providing time for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to prepare for the expected increase in the volume of calls.
Under these rules, calls to 988 will be directed to 1-800-273-TALK, which will remain operational during the 988 transition and after it is completed. To ensure that calls to 988 reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, all covered providers will be required to implement 10-digit dialing in areas that both use seven-digit dialing and use 988 as the first three numbers in seven-digit phone numbers.
In the meantime, anyone in the United States experiencing a suicidal crisis or emotional distress should call 1-800-273-8255.