MIAMI (CBSMiami) – According to the CDC, suicide is among the top ten leading causes of death in the United States, affecting every demographic and socioeconomic group. Now the Federal Communications Commission has voted to make dialing a life-saving hotline as simple as calling 911.
Shelby Rowe was the director of a suicide crisis center ten years ago when she tried to take her own life.
She said the experience made her realize how hard it can be to ask for help in that paralyzing moment.
“It’s like telling someone in a tsunami, if only they could swim better, maybe they would have survive. Like, it doesn’t matter if you’re Michael Phelps, you’re not swimming yourself out of a tsunami. Like, we need help,” she said.
That help often comes in the form of reaching out to a loved one or calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is currently a 10-digit number (800-273-8255).
Now the FCC has adopted new rules that will make it just three digits. Dialing 988 will instantly connect callers with trained counselors at local crisis centers. The 988 hotline is expected to be available in two years, giving the telecom industry time to comply and reconfigure networks.
Ajit Pai, the chairman of the FCC, said, “It’s a game changer. And I think it’s intuitive for most people that now when you dial an emergency, every child knows that number, 911, of course that’s what you dial.”
Suicide rates in the U.S. have risen in the past two decades. Last year, Lifeline connected 2.1 million calls to a crisis center.
According to the CDC, more than 48,000 people died by suicide in the U.S. in 2018, and there was a 35% increase in the rate of suicides from 1999 to 2018.
Bob Gebbia is the president of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and says there are multiple factors behind the rise.
“There’s generally an underlying mental health condition, anxiety, depression, substance use, with a combination of life events and stressors that, for many, can become overwhelming,” he said.
Rowe is now a suicide prevention manager in Oklahoma, and says she supports removing any barriers to getting help.
“Having a really easy to remember three-digit number, it’s gonna help save lives,” she said.
Experts say the three-digit hotline also emphasizes that mental health crises are just as critical as other emergencies.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255, is available right now, 24 hours a day.