988 will soon be the official number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Federal Communications Commission announced on Thursday. The Commission will require all phone service providers to make the switch by July 16, 2022, and in the meantime, Americans who need help should continue to contact the Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK) or online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Veterans and service members can reach the Veterans Crisis Line by pressing one after dialing, texting 838255, or going to veteranscrisisline.net. 988 is not currently active nationwide.
"Suicidal thoughts don't inevitably lead to action. Help is available, and it can be effective," said FCC chairman Ajit Pai in a statement. "A timely match of someone struggling with someone who can help can make all the difference. This is why the FCC's action today is so important." Establishing the easy-to-remember 988 number "will make it easier for Americans in crisis to access the help they need," he said. "Indeed, experts predict that it will result in millions more Americans receiving the intervention services they desperately need. And when more Americans receive these services, we know that more lives will be saved."
The two-year timeline is the "earliest technically-feasible" plan for service providers to complete the rollover to 988, Pai said. The FCC's statement notes that it also gives time for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to "prepare for the expected increase in the volume of calls." The rules to establish 988 apply to all telecommunications carriers as well as all interconnected and one-way Voice over Internet Protocol service providers, the FCC added.
Pai said, "My hope is that by establishing a government-backed 988 suicide and mental health three-digit dialing code, on par with the 911 dialing code that all Americans know, we will send a powerful signal that there's nothing shameful about seeking help in times of crisis — that it's a sign of strength, not of weakness. We will let people know that they are not alone."
If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal ideation or are at risk, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has several resources and a 24/7 lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.