In a crisis, a person considering suicide needs someone to talk to — that’s why there is a suicide hotline so people can call in rather than take an irreversible step. But at a time of trouble, it might be difficult to remember the number, 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).
That’s right, just as 911 is the universal number to call for help, there soon could be a three-digit number to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The New York Times reported last week that the Federal Communications Commission is recommending a three-digit number as a way to prevent suicides in the middle of what appears to be a deepening mental health crisis. The FCC was charged by Congress to put together a report on how to improve national suicide prevention and mental health crisis interventions; 988 is the result.
This is smart strategy. Started in 2005, more than 160 crisis centers across the country staff the network answering calls. Trained counselors answer the calls, which are routed to the nearest center or sent to backups when the lines are busy. In 2018, some 2.2 million calls went through. Another 102,640 crisis chats took place online. The suicide hotline is a project of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and nonprofit administrator, Vibrant Emotional Health.
Now, the FCC is proposing a rule change to make those calls even easier. The change does not need congressional or presidential approval, either. The notice of a possible rule change eventually will be posted to allow for public comment and the commission votes on the measure. We don’t see much reason to oppose such a sensible solution.
Even a young child knows to punch 911 when daddy keels over in pain. People who lack English skills can dial 911 when a wreck occurs in front of them. We are trained to get help, quickly.
Remembering 10 digits, especially when a person is upset and contemplating suicide, is more complicated. Frustrated, a person might give up. With some 47,000 Americans dead by their own hands in 2017, this change could save lives.
The FCC report shows why intervention is needed: “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 1999 to 2016, suicide increased in 49 of the 50 states, and in more than half of those states, the increase was greater than 20 percent. Moreover, the largest increase in deaths by suicide occurred in the past decade, and from 2016 to 2017, an increase of 3.7 percent (more than 2,000 additional suicide deaths) was recorded.”
In New Mexico, the Department of Health reports that the suicide rate has consistently been more than 50 percent higher than the U.S. rate, with state suicide rates increasing by 28.2 percent from 2009-17. In 2017, 491 New Mexicans died by suicide. Our state ranks fourth in the nation for suicide as a leading cause of death, according to Health Department statistics. This change would save lives right here as well as nationally.
The people saved would then have a second chance at living the life they were meant to find. Making it simpler to stop suicide makes sense. This rule change should be approved and put in place.