988 suicide phone hotline gets $282 million for easy launch in July

One of two crisis hotlines installed on the Rio Grande Bridge.

Steven Clevenger | Corbis News | beautiful pictures

People in crisis and who try to help them there will be a new phone number – 988 – to reach the national suicide prevention network starting in July. On Monday, federal health officials are announcing more than $280 million to help smooth the transition from the current 10 to triple digits.

Three-digit dialing to contact suicide hotline counselors has long been a target of mental health advocates, lawmakers in Congress, Federal Communications Commission and telecommunications industry. The Biden administration has said it wants to support a scheduled launch this summer. The new number 988 will also Word Processing And chat.

“We know that memorizing a three-digit number will beat a ten-digit number any day, especially in times of crisis, and I encourage every state to revisit its 988 implementation plan. for the sake of saving lives”. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

Mental health experts are hoping that the triple-digit number will provide a breakthrough in supporting people in crisis who may be trying to harm themselves. They predict call center demand will skyrocket as the new system goes live and people learn about it.

Those who call, text or chat 988 will be able to contact trained counselors from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network. Counselors at more than 180 local centers listen to people in crisis and provide support, connecting them to other services if needed. According to Lifeline, the new dialing code will be available nationwide starting July 16.

Of the $282 million announced Monday, $177 million will be used to strengthen and expand the operations of the existing crisis network and telephony infrastructure, including centralized chat and text response, backup space, and a subnet for Spanish speakers.

The rest of the money, $105 million, will be used to increase staffing at local call centers.

Suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, claiming the lives of more than 47,000 people in 2019, but dropped to 11th in 2020, mainly because coronavirus pandemic, killed at least 345,000 Americans and became the nation’s number 3 killer.

Suicide attempts result in more than 300,000 hospitalizations for self-harm injuries. The rate of suicide has increased steadily over the past 20 years, and it remains the leading cause of premature death for people between their teens and 50s.

Recently, the FCC voted unanimously to require phone companies to support texting up to 988 also. The commissioners said more people may be inclined to text these days, and choosing voice or text would make no difference when someone in distress is trying to get help.

The National Suicide Prevention Network currently relies on a 10-digit number, 800-273-TALK (8255), to route calls to crisis centers. The country’s largest cell phone companies, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, already support calling 988, according to the FCC. This service may already be available in some parts of the country, although not all communities have access.

The network has received more than 20 million calls since it began operating in 2005, with nearly 2.4 million last year, according to the network’s website. Its current 10-digit number will remain available even after 988 is launched. 988 suicide phone hotline gets $282 million for easy launch in July

Emma James

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