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Three-digit suicide prevention hotline – 988 – given green light in US

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Last year, the US suicide prevention lifeline received more than 2.2 million calls

A free, three-digit suicide hotline is being set up for Americans after it was approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday.

When it becomes operational, the 988 dial-code will provide mental health support and ease pressure on the 911 line, which covers all emergencies.

The hotline would reduce stigma and save lives, said FCC chairman Ajit Pai.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US and has increased by 33% in the past 20 years.

The proposal for the suicide hotline, which was unanimously approved by all five members of the commission, requires telephone providers to implement the 988 dial code within 18 months.

Mr Pai said: “988 has an echo of the 911 number we all know as an emergency number. We believe that this three-digit number dedicated for this purpose will help ease access to crisis services.”

During the meeting, FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly spoke about his own brother-in-law’s suicide.

He said the service would help those “willing to listen, that can be driven in a different direction, that can be shown a path where life matters”.

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But another commissioner, Jessica Rosenworcel, criticised the proposal for not including the option to text the hotline.

“Texting is primary for so many young people,” she said. “It would be a mistake for us to build a system that presumes talk is the only starting point for discussion.”

In the US at present, a National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available to call on 1-800-273-8255. It is run by a network of 163 crisis centres across the US, with the 911 number for those in emergency.

The proposal is now open for a comment period, which gives members of the public the opportunity to submit their opinion.

Where to get help

From Canada or US: If you’re in an emergency, please call 911

You can contact the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255 or the Crisis Test Line by texting HOME to 741741

Young people in need of help can call Kids Help Phone on 1-800-668-6868

If you are in the UK, you can call the Samaritans on 116123

For support and more information on emotional distress, click here.

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