FCC unanimously approves 988 as new three-digit suicide prevention hotline

Months after announcing a proposal to implement a three-digit suicide prevention hotline, the Federal Communications Commission approved 988.

The vote to create a national three-digit hotline, held Thursday morning, was unanimous among FCC commissioners – some of whom acknowledged the strains caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the compounded effect of George Floyd’s death and protests that ensued.

The toll that these events have taken on Americans’ mental health is profound: Three times as many U.S. adults reported symptoms of serious psychological distress in April compared with two years earlier, according to a study in the medical journal JAMA.

The process to implement the number will take two years. Telecom and voice service companies will be mandated to have a 988 hotline by July 16, 2022.

According to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the nation’s suicide rates are at the highest point since World War II. Suicide disproportionately affects marginalized groups – Black Americans, Native Americans, rural residents, teens and young adults and LGBTQ people.

“We hope any American in a suicide crisis will come to know that 988 is the number to call for immediate help and assistance,” Pai said at the commission's open meeting Thursday. “With the implementation, we anticipate that many more Americans will receive help from suicide prevention and many more lives will be saved.”

The number to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255), which received 2.2 million calls in 2018.

An FCC report published last August found that having a three-digit hotline would ease access to resources for people struggling with suicidal thoughts.

Advocacy groups celebrated the unanimous vote.

“The Trevor Project is thrilled that the FCC continues to recognize the importance of suicide prevention and highlight the need for special services for LGBTQ youth," said Sam Brinton, vice president of governmental affairs at the Trevor Project, a nonprofit group that focuses on suicide prevention among the LGBTQ community.

Contributing: Alia E. Dastagir

Follow Joshua Bote on Twitter: @joshua_bote

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 988: FCC approves 3-digit number as new suicide prevention hotline