Three-digit suicide hotline will help save lives

Published 5:49 pm Thursday, December 19, 2019


The Advocate-Messenger

As our country becomes more aware of many mental health concerns, we continue to make positive strides to end the stigma around mental illness. Ending that stigma also makes it easier for those in need to seek help and saves lives. 

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One devastating result of mental illness is suicide. Thousands die by suicide in our country each year. Many consider death by suicide a public health emergency in the U.S.  

A report to Congress released in August noted that from 1999 to 2016, suicide increased in 49 of the 50 states, and the increase was greater than 20% in more than half of those states. 

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. 

In 2017, more than 47,000 Americans died by suicide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports in 2017, 10.6 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.2 million made a plan and 1.4 million attempted suicide.

On average, there are 129 suicides per day in the U.S., and Kentucky ranks 21st in that nation for suicide rates.

The Federal Communications Commission recently approved establishing a three-digit emergency number to reach a suicide prevention hotline. 

Much like in any other emergency situation where you would dial 911, those in severe mental duress will be able to dial 988 and reach help. 

Currently, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline uses a 10-digit number, 800-273-TALK (8255) which connects callers to one of 163 crisis centers. Crisis counselors answered 2.2 million calls and more than 100,000 online chats in 2018, according to a Dec. 12 release from the FCC. 

“This designation will help ease access to crisis services, reduce the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health conditions and ultimately save lives,” the release states.

Efforts to establish the 988 hotline started when Congress passed the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018, which “tasked the FCC, in consultation with SAMHSA and the Department of Veterans Affairs, with examining and reporting on the technical feasibility of designating a shorter number — “a simple, easy-to-remember, 3-digit dialing code” — for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline.”

USA Today reports, “So far, the FCC has only proposed requiring all telephone service providers to accommodate the 988 number within 18 months. The next step is a comment period on the implementation, including the project’s time frame.”

Public health officials say suicide is preventable, which means access to treatment and help in times of crisis will be critical to helping save the lives of thousands of people in our country each year. 

We feel no shame when we need to call 911 for any other medical or emergency. There should be no shame in seeking help in times of mental health crisis. 

We all are taught to call 911 from an early age, and it is a number that is easily remembered. We anticipate 988 will be as easily remembered and hopefully utilized to save many lives.