In face of ‘suicide epidemic,’ FCC recommends 3-digit number for prevention hotline

ST. GEORGE — The Federal Communications Commission announced Thursday that it recommends “988” become the new three-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and have forwarded that recommendation to Congress.

Congressman Chris Stewart, R-Utah, speaking to constituents at a town hall meeting in Hurricane, Utah, Aug. 5, 2019 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The recommendation comes in the wake of a report mandated by the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018. According to the FCC, a three-digit number “would likely make it easier for Americans in crisis to access potentially life-saving resources.”

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, who was a House sponsor of the bill that mandated the report, has said that a three-digit number will be far easier to remember than a 10-digit one in a time of crisis.

“The current national hotline number is cumbersome and hard to recall,” Stewart said last summer following the bill’s passing the House and Senate. “By creating a hotline dialing code that is short and easy to remember, we are taking an important step towards potentially averting tragedy.”

Stewart praised the FCC’s announcement:

Utahns are facing the tragic effects of suicide at some of the highest rates in the nation. Today’s announcement by the FCC is another important step to provide critical resources to address mental health and suicide in our state and country. This will save lives.

The National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018 was also one of the last major legislative priorities of Sen. Orrin Hatch prior to his retirement.

U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch waves after addressing the Utah Senate at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Feb. 21, 2018 | Associated Press file photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

“By making the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline system more user-friendly and accessible, we can save thousands of lives by helping people find the help they need when they need it most,” Hatch’s Office said in a statement issued in August 2018 after President Donald Trump signed the bill into law.

According to the Utah Department of Health, Utah had the 5th highest age-adjusted suicide rate in the nation from 2015 to 2017. The national average for death by suicide in 2016 was 12.6 per 10,000, while in Utah it was 21.6 per 10,000.

In 2017, there were more than 47,000 suicides nationwide, making it the 10th-leading cause of death.

“There is a suicide epidemic in this country, and it is disproportionately affecting at-risk populations, including our veterans and LGBTQ youth,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement.

The current 1-800-273-TALK hotline connects those in crisis to a national network of 163 crisis centers that is funded by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Calls to the hotline are routed from anywhere in the United States to the closest certified crisis center, and in 2018, trained hotline counselors answered over 2.2 million calls and over 100,000 online chats.

“Crisis call centers have been shown to save lives,” Pai said. “This report recommends using a three-digit number to make it easier to access the critical suicide prevention and mental health services these call centers provide. I intend to move forward on this recommendation. In the meantime, my heart goes out to anyone facing a crisis. I hope they will contact 1-800-273-TALK for support today.”

Stewart recently said in a town hall meeting that suicide prevention is one of his priorities. He also discussed issues surrounding youth suicide and prevention while visiting Richfield earlier this month.

In addition to pushing an easier to use and remember three-digit number for the suicide hotline, Stewart has also sponsored legislation aimed at bolstering awareness of suicide prevention measures available to college and university students.

Universities and colleges appear to be sensitive to the issue of suicide, he said, as suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 18 and 24 nationwide and the leading cause of death for the same age range in Utah.

It is also the leading cause of death for Utah students ages 10-17, according to the Utah Health Department.


Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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