By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted unanimously on Thursday to require wireless carriers to allow texting to the new “988” U.S. National Suicide Prevention hotline that will begin use by July 2022.
“For individuals in crisis, text messaging can make it easier to contact a crisis counselor by allowing for a certain level of anonymity rather than engaging in a phone conversation,” the FCC said in a statement.
FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said “millions of us, but especially young people and those with disabilities, are more likely to text than call when they are in crisis. The bottom line is it shouldn’t matter if you make a voice call or send a text message because we should connect people in crisis to the resources they need, no matter how they communicate.”
The “988” three-digit code will direct calls to the existing suicide prevention helpline (800) 273-8255, which will also remain in service. There is a separate Veterans Crisis Line that people can reach at (800)273-8255 and will be able to reach through 988.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said U.S. suicide rates increased 33% between 1999 and 2019.
Deaths by suicide declined by 5.6%, from 47,511 to 44,834, between 2019 and 2020, according to early CDC data published by the JAMA medical journal.
In 2019, 12 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.5 million planned a suicide attempt, and 1.4 million attempted suicide, the CDC said.
The suicide prevention line consists of a national network of approximately 180 crisis centers linked by the toll-free number. In 2020, a total of 2.2 million calls were answered.
The FCC noted that some major carriers, including AT&T, are making “988” available ahead of the deadline.
The shift to “988” has impacted some local calling.
Starting last month, wireless users in many parts of the United States had to include the area code when dialing a local number.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Bill Berkrot)