FCC Votes to Create Suicide Hotline Short Code

The FCC has voted to propose designating 988 as the national suicide prevention and mental health hotline number, which will automatically connect callers to the current, longer, hotline number (1-800-273-8255). The vote was unanimous.

Related: FCC's Pai Proposes 988 for Suicide Hotline

The FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau chief Kris Monteith said the three-digit code would be a simple, easy-to-remember number to help ease access to crisis services and remove the stigma on mental health services.

The National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018 had asked the FCC to study the feasibility of such a 3-digit hotline number and the FCC had reported back to Congress in August that it thought 988 was the number to go with.

Commissioner Michael O'Rielly said his brother-in-law had taken his own life two and a half months ago and that no number would have helped him. But he said this was for others not in that position and he thought it was the right direction to go.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said that thousands of call the current healthline every day in crisis. She said she, too, had experience with suicide and the birthdays and holidays with loved ones missed. Rosenworcel thanked the FCC for including a question about how texting should fit into the discussion and build a system that assumes only talk should be in that discussion, as well as for highlighting the rise in suicide rates for young girls--the highest in 40 years.

Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said attempts of suicide by black adolescents were up 73%.

Starks said closing the broadband gap would also help get people at risk the help they need.

FCC chair Ajit Pai pointed out that the death of Robin Williams and the publication of the 1-800 number prompted the most calls ever to the hotline. He said the suicide rate is at the highest level since World War II, disproportionately affecting at-risk communities.

All three also talked about the rates of attempted suicide by the LBGTQ population--almost a half million attempts this year.

Carr said that "shortening that number to 988, as we propose today, could make a difference as a broad range of stakeholders already have indicated with their support."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.