LAS VEGAS (CBS) — Suicide is among the top ten leading causes of death in the United States, affecting every demographic and socio-economic group. Now the FCC has voted to make dialing the life-saving suicide prevention hotline as simple as dialing a three-digit number. The hotline update is expected to be available in two years.
Shelby Rowe was the director of a suicide crisis center ten years ago when she tried to take her own life. She says the experience made her realize how hard it can be to ask for help in that paralyzing moment.
“It’s like telling someone in a tsunami, if only they could swim better, maybe they could survive. Like it doesn’t matter if you’re Michael Phelps, you’re not swimming yourself out of a tsunami. like we need help,” said Shelby Rowe, Suicide Prevention Advocate.
That help often comes in the form of reaching out to a loved one or calling the National Suicide Prevention lifeline, currently a 10-digit number.
On July 16, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted rules to establish 988 as the new nationwide 3-digit phone number for Americans in crisis to connect with suicide prevention and mental health crisis counselors.
Dialing 988 would instantly connect callers with trained counselors at local crisis centers.
“It’s a game-changer. And I think it’s intuitive for most people, that now when you dial an emergency, every child knows that number, 911, of course, that’s what you dial,” said Ajit Pai, FCC Chairman.
Suicide rates in the U.S. have risen in the past two decades. Last year, Lifeline connected 2.1 million calls to a crisis center.
More than 48,000 people died by suicide in the US in 2018, and there was a 36% increase in the rate of suicides from 1999 to 2018.
Bob Gebbia is the president of the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention and says there are multiple factors behind the rise.
“There’s generally an underlying mental health condition – anxiety, depression, substance use, with a combination of life events and stressors that for many, can become overwhelming,” said Bob Gebbia, CEO of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Rowe is now a suicide prevention manager in Oklahoma and says she supports removing any barriers to getting help.
“Having a really easy to remember three-digit number, it’s going to help save lives,” added Rowe.
Experts say the 3-digit hotline also emphasizes that mental health crises are just as critical as other emergencies.
The three-digit hotline is expected to be available in two years.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available, 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).