Skip to content

AFSP Supports 3-Digit Mental Health, Suicide Prevention Number and Urges Continued Congressional Oversight

22 Aug 2019 — 3 min read



Dark blue banner with lifesavers

Root and Rise

 Contact: Alexis O’Brien, or 212-363-3500, ext 2027

AFSP Supports 3-Digit Mental Health, Suicide Prevention Number and Urges Continued Congressional Oversight

WASHINGTON (August 22, 2019) – Today the nation’s largest suicide prevention organization, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), responded to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Report on the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act to the U.S. Congress with this statement by John Madigan, AFSP Senior Vice President and Chief Public Policy Officer

“We applaud the FCC, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and Veterans Affairs (VA) for their work to analyze the effectiveness and the feasibility of a 3-digit hotline number. We agree with the initial conclusion of the FCC’s Report to Congress: that a universal, easy-to-remember, 3-digit phone number will make it easier to connect people in crisis with life-saving resources.

AFSP is calling on the relevant congressional oversight committees of the Congress to continue their due diligence on this critical issue and immediately schedule a hearing to address the FCC’s recommendation to designate “988” as a new 3-digit number as there are significant questions and concerns which should be addressed, namely:

Network Limitations – The North American Numbering Council’s Report to the FCC recognized that “988 likely cannot be deployed ubiquitously across all networks” in the United States and the FCC conceded that network upgrades and technology replacements will be necessary to “ultimately [make] the use of 988 as a designated suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline ubiquitous” nationally. 

It’s essential that a mental health and suicide prevention crisis number be nationally available for all individuals in crisis.  How will these gaps in national coverage be addressed so access is available regardless of geographic location?

Target Audience Receptivity – As stated by SAMHSA: “An N11 number will be more effective than any other shortened dialing code” and the Federal Communications Commission: “The special nature of an N11 code makes the [code] amenable to a public education campaign” and “the use of an N11 code… follows the existing conventions for abbreviated dialing already familiar to customers. The N11 architecture is an established abbreviated dialing plan that is recognized by switch manufacturers and the public at large.” 

How will Congress elevate the “988” dialing code to the level of recognizably as the N11 format?

Resource Constraints  According to the FCC Report, “a relatively low percentage of legacy switches will need to be replaced with modern equipment in order to accommodate the 988 code. [They] estimate that the cost of installing these switches and making them operational will be less than $300 million” 

This expense represents 40 percent of the FCC’s two-year cost analysis. Where does the responsibility fall for covering the cost of these upgrades? 

Planning for Success – The FCC opted to designate the 811-dialing code, rather than the 344-dialing code, in 2003 for utility digging.  The FCC cited various issues for utilizing a non-N11 number, including logistical challenges, technological replacement needs, and development work, “a process which can take 1-3 years.” 

Let’s understand the present-day challenges with designating a non-N11 number, like 988, for a national suicide prevention and mental health hotline.  Do these previous learnings need to be considered?

AFSP is committed to working with Congress to enact meaningful policy and additional resources for suicide prevention and crisis services in the United States. More dedicated and robust funding to local crisis call centers, enhanced data collection and crisis service delivery, and fortifying the administrative and operative Lifeline network must all be considered in order to deliver the best service to all Americans.”

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide. AFSP creates a culture that’s smart about mental health through education and community programs, develops suicide prevention through research and advocacy, and provides support for those affected by suicide. Led by CEO Robert Gebbia and headquartered in New York, with an Advocacy office in Washington, DC, AFSP has local chapters in all 50 states with programs and events nationwide. Learn more about AFSP in its latest Annual Report, and join the conversation on suicide prevention by following AFSP on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube.

# # #

Connection makes a difference

Find a chapter