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FCC approves '988' as the suicide hotline number

The new rule requires phone providers to direct all 988 calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by July 16, 2022.

WASHINGTON — Editor's note: The video above was published in December 2019.

The Federal Communications Commission has unanimously approved "988" as the three-digit number Americans will soon be able to use to connect with suicide prevention and mental health crisis counselors. 

The new rule requires phone providers to direct all 988 calls to one of the 170 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline crisis centers by July 16, 2022. For now, Americans needing to reach the group should continue to call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

The 800 number will remain in place, but having the shorter number makes it easier for people to call, and is expected to lead to an increase in calls to the hotline.

Suicide-prevention experts have said that the three-digit number will be a breakthrough that helps people in crisis. One aspect of designating a three-digit number for the hotline, just like 911 for emergencies, is that it removes stigma for seeking help in a mental-health emergency, they say.

The government’s action comes as suicide rates have increased across the U.S. over the past two decades. The coronavirus pandemic has put even more strain on the nation's mental health care system, and experts have been concerned about the impact as the virus and its aftershocks may deepen people's levels of anxiety and depression.

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Advocacy groups including The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, applauded the FCC's decision.

"The Trevor Project is thrilled that the FCC continues to recognize the importance of suicide prevention and highlight the need for special services for LGBTQ youth," Vice President of Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project Sam Brinton said in a statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.