Proposal for three-digit number similar to '911' for suicide prevention heads to Congress

Updated: August 17, 2019 10:10 PM

This week, the Federal Communications Commission recommended to Congress to designate the number "988" as a national, dedicated line for suicide and crisis resources.

In a report sent on Wednesday, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said there is "overwhelming support" for the creation of a three-digital code, citing advocates who say the number will "drastically improve access to appropriate care."


The new number would be similar to 911, but would connect callers to licensed and trained mental health counselors instead of law enforcement.

"It makes it so that there's one easy access point for people who don't know where to turn to, who don't know what to do," said Dr. Dan Reidenberg with Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, or SAVE.

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The Bloomington-based nonprofit has lobbied for the creation of a dedicated line over past year, in part because of the high call volumes going to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

"We need to have a dedicated service to be able to get to those people when they need it," Reidenberg said.

Currently, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline uses a 10-digit number, 800-273-TALK (8255).

The national number answered more than 2.2 million calls last year, according to data in the FCC report. Reidenberg said the calls are often transferred to local or statewide crisis centers.

He said having "988" could benefit people in Minnesota given that the only statewide crisis line shut down in 2018 because of lack of funding.

"If we can move to this three digit number that's quick and easy for people, we'll be able to save lives," Reidenberg said.

Congress will now consider the report and possibly propose funding for the project.

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Kirsten Swanson

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