News Articles

A New Number, “988”, For Suicide Prevention

By Jim Sliney Jr

There has been a toll free number, 1-800-273-TALK, available to Americans who needed a suicide prevention lifeline. But last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to create a new national crisis hotline number. The 3-digit dialing code, 988, will replace the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s current 10-digit number.

The way it will work is people will just need to dial 988 – much like calling 911 for emergencies or 311 for city services. Callers will then be routed, just like they were with the previous ten-digit-number, to one of 163 crisis centers, where counselors answered 2.2 million calls last year.

“Three-digit access to crisis services represents a national recognition that seeking help for behavioral health and suicidal crisis is just as much a part of life as seeking help for fire, for injury, or for other health and wellness needs,” according to Dwight Holton, CEO of suicide prevention nonprofit Lines for Life.

"988 has an echo of the 911 number we all know as an emergency number. And we believe that this three-digit number dedicated for this purpose will help ease access to crisis services, it will reduce the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health conditions, and ultimately it will save lives," Chairman Ajit Pai said Thursday during the commission's open December meeting.

This development follows on the heels of the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act which looked into the previous hotline’s effectiveness and investigated which three-digit number would be best for this purpose. Though the number is not live yet, it is in an ‘public comment’ period, after which the Federal Communication Commission will enact it.

CATHOLIC CHARITIES AND SUICIDE PREVENTION

Catholic Charities does not operate a crisis hotline for suicide prevention however, they can help direct callers to other existing programs and services. You can call the Catholic Charities Help Line at 888-744-7900 between 9am -5pm. Debra Presti-Eschen, licensed clinical social worker and director of outreach services case management, at Catholic Charities Community Services adds that, “for those individuals and families who are impacted by a mental health crisis, we are there to help by listening, identifying the level of crisis, connecting to an appropriate local crisis hotline or mental health provider.”

Together, these efforts can make services more readily available to those in dire crisis. According to the CDC, 45,000 Americans took their lives in 2016. We can do better. With this new tool, and the continued magnification of God’s love and mercy, we will.