According to statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates have risen in nearly every US state from 1999 to 2016, and are continuing to increase. Suicide rates went up more than 30% in half of states since 1999, and more than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known mental health condition. There were 45,000 deaths in 2016 alone.
As for teenagers and young adults, the CDC says this demographic’s deaths attributed to suicide surpass those from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, combined.
With these sobering statistics in mind, the US government is working to make the national crisis hotline easier to reach. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reported, “overwhelming support” for a new law that will change the 10-digit crisis number to a 3-digit code: 988, like 911 for emergency services or 311 for city services.
The current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline fielded 2.2 million calls last year from 163 crisis centers, from the number 1-800-273-TALK (8255). When the new number is implemented, callers in distress will only have to dial three numbers to reach a counselor. The 10-digit number is still in use — call 1-800-273-TALK for assistance if you or a loved one are facing a crisis.
According to PBS News, the bill is sitting “on President Donald Trump’s desk, awaiting action.”
The shorter crisis number is expected to lead to more calls, which puts even more pressure on already-understaffed crisis centers. The FCC reported, citing the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, that centers would need an extra $50 million a year to handle the predicted 100% increase (double) in calls.
In a statement, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he’s committed to making that change happen. “There is a suicide epidemic in this country. It is disproportionately affecting at-risk populations, including our veterans and LGBTGQ youth.”
“Crisis call centers have been shown to save lives,” he added. Pai emphasizes the goal of the new number is to make it easier to “access the critical suicide prevention and mental health services these call centers provide.”
The FCC chose the 988 number so it could be implemented more quickly and easily than repurposing an existing 3-digit “N11 code.” They’re hoping that easier access to help will begin to impact the suicide epidemic in this country.