The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) unanimously approved a proposal to change the National Suicide Prevention Hotline from a 10-digit 800 number (1-800-273-8255) to a three-digit number 9-8-8. The proposal to assign 988 is now open for public comment, and soon the rulemaking process will begin. The proposal could be implemented in 18 months.
Recognizing the need to make it easier to access potentially life-saving resources, Congress tasked the FCC with analyzing the effectiveness of the current 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Hotline and to examine the feasibility of designating a simple, easy to remember three-digit dialing code.
The FCC settled on 988 instead of an N11 code for the hotline because it determined it would be easier to implement than attempting to repurpose an existing code.
The FCC estimated the total costs of implementing a 3-digit code for the first year would be about $570 million and $175 million in the second year. The costs include a public awareness campaign and the increased call-center capacity costs.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline was launched in 2005 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Vibrant Emotional Health, a mental health nonprofit.
In 2018, Congress passed the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018. In 2017, more than 47,000 Americans died by suicide and more than 1.4 million adults attempted suicide. From 1999 to 2016, suicide increased in 49 of the 50 states, and in more than half of those states, the increase was greater than 20 percent.