The Federal Communications Commission has decided to look into letting people text the upcoming shortened National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number in a bid to increase accessibility and use of the service by those who need it most (via Politico reporter John Hendel). Last May, the FCC approved the creation of a new short code, 988, that will act as an easier-to-remember phone number for the lifeline.
Please note that calling 988 will not connect you to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline until July 16th, 2022.
It’s worth noting that today’s approval is just a first step and doesn’t mean that people will, for sure, be able to text the 988 number when it goes live in July 2022. However, it does mean that the FCC will be looking into making it a requirement for phone providers, and it will be accepting public comment on whether texting should be allowed. According to its statement, the FCC would also like public comment on the implementation details before it starts drawing up actual rules, like what kinds of things people should be able to text the lifeline, what happens if a message bounces back, etc.
To provide a comment, you can go to the FCC’s express comment page. The proceeding is 18-336.
While being able to contact the lifeline via phone or SMS with an easily memorable number is undoubtedly a good thing, it’s also worth noting that the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline also has a chat feature on its website. The current hotline added the ability to accept text messages at 1-800-273-8255 in August 2020, but 988 is an easier number to remember, especially during times of crisis.
The proposal to add texting support to 988 wasn’t the only action the FCC took today to try to improve public safety. It also announced that it would be looking into increasing the reliability of the 911 emergency services network.