On July 16th, the full FCC voted in an Open Commission meeting with final ruling to establish and begin implementation for 9-8-8 to replace the ten-digit National Suicide Prevention Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).
Understandably, many have questions and want to know more about 988. I hope the following clarifies when 988 will be active and the details surrounding it. Hug a Commissioner today!
What is 988? This is the newly appointed three-digit crisis number that will link directly to the National Suicide Prevention Crisis Hotline. It will replace the longer ten-digit National Suicide Prevention Crisis Number effective July 2022 and will be the mental health version of 911.
Is 988 active? No, 988 has been designated as the new, easier-to- remember number and will not be active until July 2022. Therefore, please continue to provide the Lifeline number 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) for the following two years.
Why is 988 not active?
The deployment of a new nationwide number requires the coordination of the telecommunication companies, and most importantly, the Lifeline will need additional resources. We need this to be signed into law in order to provide the Lifeline with the resources they will need.
Who runs the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Number?
The Lifeline is run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Why doesn’t the FCC vote make 988 law?
There are two parallel tracts occurring—regulatory and legal. The FCC is the regulatory arm of this process. This is vital because the FCC has now mandated that by July 2022 all carriers must comply and make 988 available to every American. Currently 911 is the only number that is federally required for all carriers. This is why 911 can be accessed by any phone, anytime, anywhere.
What is the law that must be enacted to make 988 a reality?
The legal arm of this process has been in the works for years. The U.S. Senate unanimously approved the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act (H.R.4194/S.2661). Currently, we await the vote from members of the House of Representatives. Once members of the House of Representatives vote on and approve the Act, the last step will be approval from President Trump.
Can I help?
Yes. I encourage every American to reach out to their elected officials in the House of Representatives. The more constituents that contact their elected officials the more likely it is that members of Congress will understand that Americans demand this subject be addressed without political agenda. This is the time to let your voice be heard. Click the link below, enter your zip code and your Congressional members will be auto-populated. A drafted email awaits and all you have to do is hit “send,” or you can personalize the email explain why suicide prevention is important to you.
Why won’t 988 be available after President Trump signs 988 into law?
Two years is an aggressive and reasonable timeframe for a change of this scope. The stakes could not be higher as we are talking about American lives. In order for 988 to be up and effectively running there are specific things which must be addressed and executed.
What are these things?
This act supports specific needs, issues and language that must be addressed in order to effectively deploy a new national crisis number.
When President Trump signs National Suicide Hotline Designation Act into law what exactly does this mean?
When enacted into law by President Trump the verbiage of this law will ensure many things. The law will have language protecting the number itself as well as the agencies which support the number. Once approved by all three branches of legislation and signed into law it will remain the law, unaffected by who is President of the United States in five years or 50 years. The 988 number will remain the Nat’l Suicide Prevention number from now on. This is where the FCC probably begins to make more sense to most—they are the federal agency which will oversee that telecommunication companies make 988 available the same way that 911 is available to you and me today.
What else does this law do?
The law sets forth three sets of language: funding, training and reporting.
FUNDING—We know that because there will be sustained messaging to Americans, encouraging anyone that is struggling to reach out, there will be an extraordinary increase in call volume to the Nat’l Suicide Prevention number. Currently the Lifeline serves over 170 agencies nationwide. When someone calls the 800 Lifeline number the call is routed to an agency nearest to the area code of the caller’s number. The Lifeline has been under staffed and under funded prior to the corona virus, COVID-19 pandemic. Since COVID, some regions have seen an increase in call volume over 900%. The language of the law will ensure that the Lifeline and its supporting partners have increased and necessary funding to hire additional staff and conduct operations effectively. Additional funding will ensure callers are placed with someone in the right geographical index as opposed to being matched with the caller’s area code. Many Americans keep their cell phone number when relocating and this will not be a factor moving forward.
TRAINING—The Lifeline and its partnering agencies must hire and properly train additional staff.
REPORTING—As part of the legal language monthly reports will be mandated. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this. Additional funding will provide agencies with the ability to better track at-risk groups. This could not be more relevant and important than during a national pandemic. We know that suicide is preventable. Once we have identified which groups are most at risk through regular reporting we will be able to help those groups in ways like never before.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai explained during the all-Commission historical vote, how a three-digit Mental Health Crisis line will serve our country:
988 will tell (those that struggle) that they are not alone… seeking help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of courage.
Chairman Pai also addressed the tremendous opportunity that we will have during the transition as we educate the public about the new number with sustained messaging. This number will replace shame, stigma, and fear of judgement with empathetic and caring voices. Callers will be reminded that they are not alone, that there is hope because there is always help.
The newly appointed 988 number will help previously identified at-risk groups such as Veterans, Native Americans and the LGBT+ communities; its reach will extend well beyond these groups. COVID-19 has resulted in many other groups that we must ensure are served such as First Responders affected by secondary PTSD, mental health workers, teachers, therapists, the list goes on. Chairman Pai concluded by expressing the importance of a two-year timeline:
…it is literally a life and death issue.
My sincere thanks to Chairman Pai and his incredible Commission. As a professional that has worked in the field of Communications for over two decades, this Commission is Best-in-Class. Period. They are the standard bearer for WHAT IS POSSIBLE! True transformation can be accomplished when stellar leadership, individual integrity, professionalism, and the desire to work in solution come together. Take note of this behind-the-scenes team. They have set the bar high for generations to come and by doing so will save millions of lives.
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, Commissioner Michael O'Rielly, Chairman Ajit Pai, Commissioner Brendan Carr and Commissioner Geoffrey Starks.
In light of all that has been necessary for the FCC to attend to with COVID, Broadband Access for example, yes, that is the FCC. And still, they were dedicated to researching and gathering facts. Each Commissioner was extremely well informed and had prepared concise and meaningful data as well as personal input. I thank you for the future generations of our country. I thank those not pictured as well. Commissioner Rosenworcel had the look on her face that I had in my heart. I can only imagine what it felt like to know in that very moment in time, that vote will save millions upon millions of lives. An extraordinary moment to witness. I thank the entire Commission for staying the course.
A sincere thank you to every Lifeline staff member. This organization is filled with dedicated Americans that work tirelessly, regardless of funding, or agency locations, they exemplify extraordinary teamwork. Think about a 900% increase in call volume in some regions. This is the group of individuals that handled those calls. They routed and continue to match each and every call with someone that will help them. 170, including the Veterans Crisis line, is a lot of agencies, but it certainly does not mean there are agencies conveniently located. These folks make it happen. They also continue to offer life-saving content on social media platforms. Visit their website and see what I mean. These are two hero groups in my book.
The third hero group—AFSP. Those of you that have supported my fundraising efforts for AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Overnight or local walks—I thank you. It is your generous contributions that help AFSP have a voice in Washington. Thank you AFSP CEO Robert Gebbia for your continued vision and outstanding staff. Connor Jobs in D.C. you stay the course educating me on law and order and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.