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Congressman Tim Ryan Praises FCC’s Plan to Designate Three-Digit Number for National Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Hotline

November 20, 2019
Press Release

Washington, DC – Congressman Tim Ryan (OH-13) today praised the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) proposal to begin the rulemaking process to establish 9-8-8 as a new, nationwide, three-digit phone number for a suicide prevention and mental health hotline. The Commission will vote on this proposal at its December 12 public meeting. Congressman Ryan is a cosponsor of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act (H.R. 4194), which officially makes a law to designate 9-8-8 for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline.

“In 2017, 47,173 Americans died by suicide while there were nearly 1.4 million suicide attempts – these rates are at the highest levels since World War II. This should alarm every single one of us,” said Congressman Ryan. “The federal government has a responsibility to ensure Americans across the country have the resources and ability to seek help. And this three-digit hotline will help save countless of lives. As proven with 9-1-1, a three-digit number is easier to remember and quicker to dial. While we still have more work to do in providing mental health treatment for every American, I want thank the FCC for introducing this life-saving proposal and moving us in the right direction.”

The FCC’s proposal would designate 9-8-8 as the national three-digit code.  It would also require that all phone companies transmit all calls to 9-8-8 to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which today provides suicide prevention assistance at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) and through online chats.  The Lifeline is a national network of 163 crisis centers that are funded by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).  Calls to the Lifeline are routed from anywhere in the United States to the closest certified crisis center.  In 2018, trained Lifeline counselors answered over 2.2 million calls and over 100,000 online chats.  

The National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018 directed the FCC, in consultation with the SAMHSA, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the North American Numbering Council, to study the feasibility of using a simple, easy-to-remember three-digit number for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline system.  In August, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau and Office of Economics and Analytics sent this report to Congress, recommending 9-8-8 as the new three-digit dialing code and finding that such a three-digit number “would likely make it easier for Americans in crisis to access potentially life-saving resources.” 

If the proposed Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is adopted by a vote of the full Commission at its December 12 Open Commission Meeting, the Commission will begin taking public comment on the proposal.  Following review of that public record, the Commission will decide how to proceed with final rules to formally designate 9-8-8 as the nationwide phone number for suicide prevention and mental health support.