988 national suicide prevention hotline one step closer to reality

Health

DENVER — The Federal Communications Commission and the United States Senate are advancing measures to make 988 the national suicide prevention number.

Many people believe 911 is the number to call for a mental health emergency. However, many mental health experts say 911 is not the appropriate phone call for a mental health crisis.

National mental heath and suicide hotlines have existed for years.

1-800-273-8255 is one hotline number nationwide.

While current nationwide numbers help plenty of Americans each year, the problem is: they aren’t as memorable as 911.

Now, the FCC and the U.S. Senate are advancing measures to make 988 the national suicide prevention number.

Dr. Michael Allen, a professor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, has been working on the idea with stakeholders nationwide for years.

”Part of the desire is not just to create a simpler number but to develop a better system,” Allen told FOX31.

In a recent report, the FCC estimates the change would cost more than $745 million over the course of the first two years.

The money would be spent to update switchboards, staff call centers and educate the public about the 988 number.

Proponents of the 988 system used the Department of Transportation’s Value of a Statistical Life (VSL) to provide financial context for the program. The VSL estimates each life saved is worth about $9.6 million, which means if 77 lives are saved, the new number would be worthwhile.

Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, has been helping lead the bipartisan effort in the U.S. Senate.

Mental Health Colorado, an organization devoted to reducing the high suicide rate in Colorado, says getting police out of the mental health emergencies is essential.

”It’s very important people who call 988 will understand this is not going to end in handcuffs,” said Vincent Atchity, CEO of Mental Health Colorado.

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