Monday, December 16, 2019

FCC OKs 3-digit number for suicide and mental-health crisis calls, to start in 18 months; could also help thwart overdoses

The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously Thursday to move ahead with a plan to set up a suicide-prevention and mental-health crisis hotline. It's similar to the 911 hotline, but "instead of dialing the police, the number would connect callers to experts in suicide prevention and mental health," Colin Dwyer reports for NPR. "The proposed number, 988, would link callers to an already existing network of crisis centers around the country set up by the Department of Health and Human Services."

The network of 163 call centers can already be reached through 1-800-273-TALK, or online, but the FCC believes that dialing 988 will be easier to remember, will make suicide prevention efforts more effective, and will reduce the stigma surrounding suicide and mental-health conditions, the FCC said in a study prepared in collaboration with the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. "Congress requested the report as part of the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act, passed and signed into law last year in a rare display of bipartisan agreement," Dwyer notes.

It could be a while before the 988 hotline goes live; the public comment notice proposes an 18-month time frame for the project. Right now, the proposal is open to public comment, then the commission will finalize the rules, Dwyer reports.

The notion of treating mental-health crises more like physical-health crises seems to be catching on, as more lawmakers and stakeholders recognize that stigma is a major barrier to treatment. In Kentucky, the chair of the state House Health and Welfare Committee, Rep. Kim Moser, has filed a bill to create a program to train people in first aid for mental-health and substance-use crisis situations, Melissa Patrick of Kentucky Health News reports.

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