Suicide Hotline Could be Lifeline for Patients in Crisis

The Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to create a three-digit suicide hotline is drawing praise from the patient advocacy community.

By dialing 988, a variation on the familiar 911, people in crisis could reach a trained counselor at one of 166 crisis centers funded by the Department of Health and Human Services.  The new call number would replace the current, 11-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline but connect callers to the same resources. The FCC’s proposal follows a 2019 report to Congress noting that a three-digit call number would make it easier for “Americans in crisis to access potentially life-saving resources.”  

The suicide rate in the United States has risen 33% since 1999.  Though certain groups, such as veterans, blue-collar workers and teens, are statistically at a higher risk, the nation’s suicide epidemic cuts across demographic lines.  One group supporting the FCC’s proposal, for example, is the Movement Disorders Policy Coalition.

“Movement disorders are associated with a range of mental health comorbidities,” the group explains in a letter to the FCC.  Movement disorders can range from Tourette to dystonia to progressive conditions such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s. In some cases, such as with tardive dyskinesia, a movement disorder can develop from long-term use of psychotropic drugs to treat serious mental health conditions.

These conditions often co-exist with anxiety and depression, the group explains in its letter.  “The social stigma…combined with the difficulty of managing day-to-day challenges of a movement disorder…can also have negative impacts on an individual’s mental health, leading to depression or anxiety.  Risk of suicidal ideation, for instance, is common among people living with Huntington’s disease.”

The FCC’s proposal could well make mental health support more accessible to all people, including those with movement disorders.  As the Movement Disorders Policy Coalition explains, the move could also “promote widespread recognition of mental health as equally important as physical health.” 

Following the public comment period, the FCC will move toward finalizing its proposed rule.


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