The U.S. suicide hotline will roll out a new shortcut on July 16, allowing people in distress to simply dial 988 to reach an operator. Since the number was approved by Congress in 2020, many states have struggled to implement a plan to meet the deadline to have it fully operational, and an extension, giving some states until July 24, has been adopted.
At its July open meeting Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission’s five leaders unanimously voted to finalize 988 as the three-digit number Americans can dial and be directed to the 24/7 national hotline.
Among the issues reported in states like South Carolina is making sure crisis centers are equipped to handle the logistics of the new shortcut. At present, a person wanting to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline must call or text 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Texting 988 will eventually also connect someone with a mental health professional, but that option is still in development.
The difficulties in implementing the new system have not been unexpected, Dr. Jeff Goldfinger, CEO of Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, told Yahoo News.
“Once upon a time, 911 was implemented, and it took a long time — 20 to 30 years — for people to kind of really bring it online nationally, everywhere,” Goldfinger said. “Now we just take for granted: a medical emergency — call 911.”
Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, one of the first of its kind in the nation, started a suicide hotline about 60 years ago, and, along with other organizations such as the National Council for Mental Wellbeing and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, was among those to advocate for an easy-to-use number like 911 for mental health crises.
“We realized we need to have an easy number to remember, especially in a type of mental health crisis,” Goldfinger said.
The 988 shortcut was approved when then-President Donald Trump signed the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act. The FCC then adopted rules that say “calls to 988 will be directed to 1-800-273-TALK, which will remain operational during and after the 988 transition.”
ARTICLE: PAUL MURDOCH
MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE
PHOTO CREDITS: THE HILL