Having a mental health crisis? Dial 988 – USA TODAY


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NEW YORK — With suicides on the rise, the U.S. government wants to make the national crisis hotline easier to reach.

Once implemented, people will just need to dial 988 to seek help. Currently, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline uses a 10-digit number, 800-273-TALK (8255). Callers are routed to one of 163 crisis centers, where counselors answered 2.2 million calls last year.

A law passed last year required the Federal Communications Commission to study assigning a three-digit number for suicide prevention, like 911 for emergencies or 311 for city services. The FCC said in a Wednesday report that there is “overwhelming support” for a three-digit number because it would be easier for distressed people to get help.

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he intends to start the months-long process to make that happen.

The government’s action comes as suicide rates have increased across the U.S. over the past two decades, and dramatically so — by more than 30% — in half of U.S. states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There were 45,000 deaths in 2016.

The new, shorter number would likely lead to more calls, which in turn would mean more expenses for crisis centers already struggling to keep up. The FCC estimates that if the number of calls to the hotline doubled, centers would need an extra $50 million a year to handle the increase.

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