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Text message option evaluated for next suicide hotline ‘988’

Recognizing that many Americans depend on texting, US regulators are considering requiring phone companies to allow people to send text messages to a suicide hotline.

Recognizing that many Americans depend on texting, US regulators are considering whether to require phone companies to allow people to send text messages to a suicide hotline.

The Federal Communications Commission voted last summer to require a new “988” number for people to call to reach a suicide prevention hotline. Telephone companies have until July 2022 to implement it.

Once installed, people will be able to call 988 for help, similar to the way 911 is used for emergencies. Currently, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline uses a 10-digit number, 800-273-TALK (8255), which routes calls to about 170 crisis centers.

Crisis advisers began responding to texts sent to Lifeline last August, the FCC said. On Thursday, the agency voted unanimously to initiate a process that would also require phone companies to let people send messages to 988. The agency noted the importance of sending text messages to young and deaf, hearing impaired or disabled people of speech.

“While a direct voice line has its benefits, traditional phone calls are no longer native communications for many young people. Text messaging is where they turn first, ”said FCC President-in-Office, Jessica Rosenworcel, in a statement. “So, it’s time to make the text of the suicide prevention hotline accessible with 988.”

It is unclear when text messages will be available for 988. FCC rules generally take months to complete.

Suicide prevention experts said the three-digit hotline could be a breakthrough that helps people in crisis. Suicide rates have soared in the United States over the past two decades, although they dropped last year during the pandemic.

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