988 will be a good thing, when it happens…

December 23, 2019

SACK Coordinator

Despite what the headlines read, it is very important to remember that 988 has NOT been implemented yet and sharing this number is ineffective for those that are in crisis now. Here is the background information, stay tuned for updates.

In August the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sent a report to five congressional committees explaining why suicide crisis calls should not be funneled through 911. The 911 system is not suited to provide counseling, or to respond to calls that can be handled through conversation with trained professionals.

The FCCs newly approved proposal details how the number “988” in the future will route callers to their closest National Suicide Prevention Lifeline crisis center, and will have a “Press 1 function” that will connect veterans to the Veteran Crisis Line. Unfortunately, pressing “988” on your keypad will not get you to the Lifeline just yet.

Currently, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline uses a traditional 10-digit number, 800-273-8255 (TALK), and provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That number routes callers to one of 163 crisis centers, where counselors answered 2.2 million calls last year (and over 100,000 online chats). The Lifeline is funded by the Minnesota Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The FCCs proposal will require that all telecommunications carriers and interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service providers make, within 18 months, any network changes necessary to ensure that users can dial 988 to reach the Lifeline.

Before that 18 month countdown can begin, the next step is a comment period on the Proposal. During which time, the FCC will seek comment on all aspects of implementation; including whether a longer or shorter time-frame would be needed to make 988 a reality. This means that telecommunications carriers or VoIP service providers will have opportunity to weigh on if the 18 month time-frame is realistic, equal to those in the mental health profession who feel this is a real step forward. Dwight Holton, CEO of Lines for Life, a suicide prevention nonprofit quoted from the USA Today: “No one is embarrassed to call 911 for a fire or an emergency. No one should be embarrassed to call 988 for a mental health emergency.”

After the comment period, the FCC will then decide how to proceed with the final rules – including implementation deadlines.

In short, this will take months for the comment period, then the FCC will make their final ruling, and finally several more months, possibly years, for implementation if the comment period produces feedback that 18 months is not a sufficient amount of time to make all of the network changes required for 988 to be functional across the country.

So in the meantime if you or someone you know would like to talk to someone, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (voice) is available at: 800-273-TALK (8255), and the National Crisis Text Line (text) is available by texting MN to 741741. Both services are available 24/7.

Crisis Counselors from Crisis Text Line are real people, not robots and their goal is to respond to every texter in less than 5 minutes. The service is confidential (unless emergency services are absolutely necessary for your safety), and will not appear on your billing statement*. Crisis Text Line is also available through Facebook Messenger.

*If your cell phone plan is with AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, or Verizon you will not be charged and it will not show on your billing statement, other carriers – standard text message rates may apply and 741741 may appear on your billing statement.

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Posted in Mental Health Resources, News/Announcements.