Dec. 12 (UPI) -- The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday agreed to move forward with plans to adopt a three-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
The five-member commission voted unanimously to approve the proposal to designate 988 as the national number for the hotline, opening it up for public comment and beginning the rule-making process.
"988 has an echo of the 911 number we all know as an emergency number. And we believe that this three-digit number, dedicated for this purpose, will help ease access to crisis services," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said. "It'll reduce the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health conditions. And it'll ultimately save lives."
A report to Congress by the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau and Office of Economics and Analytics noted that between 1999 and 2016, the number of suicides increased in 49 of the 50 states -- and the growth was greater than 20 percent in half of them. About 2,000 more suicides were reported between 2016 and 2017.
It also noted suicide rates were higher for certain "at-risk" populations including military veterans and LGBTQ communities.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which provides a national network of 163 crisis centers is currently available by calling 1-800-273-TALK. The network answered over 2.2 million calls and more than 100,000 online chats in 2018, the FCC said.