Suicide epidemic addressed with approval of 3-digit hotline
WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Suicide is among the top 10 leading causes of death in the U.S. That’s why the Federal Communications Commission wants to make it easier to get help.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has been leading the effort to make dialing a potentially life-saving suicide hotline as easy as calling 911.
“To me, at least, there’s a disconnect between the people who need help, which is a number that’s increasing, and the people who can provide it,' said Pai. “That’s where the FCC can step in. By creating 9-8-8, we can make it a much easier connection for those people who are struggling.”
Currently, people dial a 10-digit number for the Suicide Prevention Hotline. Starting July 16, 2022, callers will dial 988 to connect with trained counselors at local crisis centers.
“In the next couple of years, they’re going to be doing a lot of outreach efforts to educate people about the number, to make sure they get the resources to staff that number and to otherwise support the efforts to make 988 the norm,” Pai said.
The two-year process allows time for telecommunication companies and providers to adopt the changes needed.
“I do wish the implementation could be sooner,” said Pai. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of telephone companies and other providers in this country who have legacy infrastructure, older infrastructure, that either needs to be reconfigured or ultimately replaced. In order to make sure that a number that is dialed, 988, goes directly to the suicide prevention lifeline.”
He added, “I want people to rest assured that I take this seriously, the importance of this issue. We picked a date that was much sooner than what the industry wanted. We’re looking forward to pushing ahead cooperatively with industry and with the advocates out there who recognize the importance of this problem.”
Some local suicide prevention advocates also believe they need the two years.
“As much I want this active tomorrow, we need those two years. As the suicide prevention and intervention field, we need to ensure that we have the funding in place to support the influx of calls that we’re already seeing,” said Bailey Blair, co-founder of Stop Suicide ICT.
Those working on the frontlines of suicide prevention and intervention believe the shortened hotline will reduce the stigma for seeking help.
“I think that will go a long way to reducing any discomfort around mental health in general, but also specifically around suicide,” said Blair. She added that suicide rates have increased in Wichita and Sedgwick County over the last 15 years.
“If we can relate to each other on this idea of the struggle that everyone has gone through something and everyone at some time has felt their situation can’t get better... I don’t want anyone to have to endure that alone,” said Blair.
Pai hopes the hotline will make it easier for anyone struggling to call for help.
“My message to every American who is struggling is, ‘you are not alone. There are a lot of people like you, and we want to make sure the FCC helps you in every way we can,‘” he said.
In the meantime, if you or someone you know needs help, the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be accessed by clicking here or calling 1-800-273-8255.
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