988 Suicide Hotline Raises $ 282 million to help get started in July

WASHINGTON – People in crisis and those trying to help them will have a new phone number – 988 – from July to reach the National Suicide Prevention Network. On Monday, federal health officials announced more than $ 280 million to ease the transition from the current 10-digit number to the three-digit number.

Three-digit suicide hotline numbers have long been a target of mental health advocates, members of Congress, the Federal Communications Commission, and the telecommunications industry. The Biden administration wants to contribute to a timely introduction this summer. The new 988 number will also handle text and chat.

“We know that remembering a three-digit number outstrips a ten-digit number every day, especially in times of crisis, and I encourage every state to accelerate planning to implement 988 to save lives,” said the Minister for Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

Mental health experts hope the three-digit number will be a breakthrough in helping people in crisis who might otherwise be trying to harm themselves. They predict that the demand for call centers will skyrocket once the new system is in place and people find out about it.

Those who call, text, or chat 988 can reach trained counselors who are part of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network. Advisors in more than 180 local centers listen to people in crisis, offer support and connect them to other services as needed. According to Lifeline, the new area code should be available nationwide from July 16.

Of the $ 282 million announced on Monday, $ 177 million will be used to strengthen and expand the operations and telephone infrastructure of the existing crisis network, including centralized chat and text replies, backup capacity and a sub-network for Spanish speakers .

The remainder of the money, $ 105 million, will be used to build staff in the local call centers.

Suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, claiming more than 47,000 lives in 2019, but falling to the 11th in 2020.

Suicide attempts result in more than 300,000 people being admitted to hospital emergency rooms for self-harm. The suicide rate has risen steadily over the past 20 years and remains a leading cause of premature death in teenagers well into their 50s.

Recently, the FCC unanimously voted to require telephone companies to support SMS to 988 as well. Commissioners said that many people these days are more inclined to copywriting and that their choice of voice or text shouldn’t make any difference when looking for help in someone in need.

The national suicide prevention network currently uses a 10-digit number, 800-273-TALK (8255), to route calls to crisis centers. The country’s largest cellular companies, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, already support 988, according to the FCC. The service may already be available in some parts of the country, although not every community has access yet.

Lifeline has received more than 20 million calls since its inception in 2005, with nearly 2.4 million in the past year, according to the network’s website. The current 10-digit number will remain available after the introduction of 988.

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