Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and is often called a public health emergency. But, there’s some good news about how the US government is being proactive in addressing this crisis. Federal regulators have just announced that 988 – the impending new dedicated three-digit number for America’s Suicide Prevention hotline, “will soon make seeking emergency mental health help more like calling 911.” In addition to this, it also helps to de-stigmatize the countless individuals who are victims of the growing mental health epidemic.
Keeping Mental Health at the Forefront
Once the current months-long process comes to a close, the line for 800-273-TALK, which diverts callers to one of 170 crisis centers will cease, and whenever there is a mental health emergency, residents in the U.S. will be able to dial 988, and receive the attention which 911 callers are given when they need first-responders for other emergencies.
Public Health Experts Say Suicide Preventable
The Chief Executive Officer of the suicide prevention non-profit, Lines for Life, Dwight Holton, noted, “The three-digit number is really going to be a breakthrough in terms of reaching people in a crisis. 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.”
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued a release stating that, “Formal rule-making on the 988 number has begun — it’s a process that started with a congressional statute in 2018 and was the subject of an FCC report released in August 2019.” Thus far, all providers of telephone services in the US, have been given a period of 18 months to accommodate the new 988 Suicide Prevention hotline number. A comment period on the hotline’s set up will follow, and this will incorporate the estimated time frame for the initiative.
Last year, an investigation conducted by USA TODAY, included a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which concluded that over 47,000 Americans killed themselves in 2017 and that post-1999, the rate of suicide has shot up by 33%. Indeed, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s director, John Draper, remarked, “There’s been so much more put into every one of those causes of death than suicide… If you didn’t do anything for heart disease and you didn’t do anything for cancer, then you’d see those rates rise, too.”
While there is so much more than needs to be done to make a real impact in reducing the suicide rates in the US, this is certainly an ambitious and welcome step. The shortage of therapists is still real and one of the largest obstacles in this battle, but the important thing is that finally treatment of mental health issues is becoming a greater concern in government.