Editor's note: If you or a loved one is in crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK).
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The Federal Communications Commission said Thursday it will create a 3-digit mental health and suicide crisis national hotline, similar to 911.
The number, 988, will funnel calls to existing crisis call centers currently reached by the much longer 800 number, 800-273-TALK, which fielded 2.2 million calls last year. Supporters hope the shorter number will mean more people reach out when they’re having suicidal thoughts or other mental health crises.
The move is part of local, regional and national efforts to respond to rising rates of suicide. Forty-nine states have seen a rise in the number of completed suicides from 1999 to 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
States in the Upper Midwest saw some of the most troubling trends. North Dakota had the nation's largest jump in suicides, rising 58%. South Dakota's rate rose 45% and Minnesota's rate rose 41% in the same time period.
Ajit Pai, FCC chairman, said the new, short number could prove particularly helpful to several at-risk populations at risk for suicide, including veterans and LGBTQ youth. He said he might even support more specialized hotlines for those groups.
"More than 20 veterans die by suicide every day and more than half a million LGBTQ youth will attempt suicide this year alone," Pai said. "A shorter, simpler suicide hotline number could be a game-changer."
The FCC explored the idea on the direction of Congress, eventually choosing 988 as an easy to remember number that isn't like any telephone area code and will work with the vast majority of phone network systems.
Pai said the expected increase in call volume will mean more expenses for the centers that would handle 988 calls, and he encouraged the various federal departments and "interested stakeholders" to work with Congress on the matter.
Earlier this year, the FCC estimated the switch to a shortened number would cost $570 million in the first year, $175 million in Year 2, then subsequent years would cost $50 million annually.
"After we review public input on this idea, we hope to move forward and make 988 the national number for suicide prevention and mental health crisis services," said Pai, in a video statement posted to Twitter.