Mental health crisis calls to 988 could soon be routed based on location instead of area code | CNN


The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has taken the first step toward adopting a rule that would require telecommunications companies to route calls to the 988 suicide and crisis hotline based on the caller’s physical location. instead of their phone numbers. Postal code.

FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said she has sent notice of the proposed rule to the full commission and expects the rule to come up for a vote in the coming weeks, given bipartisan support for the change.

When people call 988 for help, they should have confidence that the support they receive is local, he said in a news release.

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline provides free emotional support to people in mental health crisis and connects them to local resources. The line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week and includes more than 200 local crisis centers across the country.

However, callers are currently routed to a call center based on area code rather than physical location. For example, someone based in Los Angeles who has a cell phone number with a New York area code would be directed to a New York crisis call center.

The FCC’s new rule is crucial to ensuring that Americans can access mental health care as quickly and safely as possible, said Sen. Alex Padilla, co-founder of the Senate Mental Health Caucus. in a press conference this Thursday with other members of the caucus. FCC and the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Hannah Wesolowski, director of advocacy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), said most people keep their old phone number when they move, so their area code doesn’t reflect with precision your location.

988 will not reach its full potential unless all help-seekers can get immediate help and be connected to the resources available where they are. Too much progress has been made with the 988 to stop short of that ideal, Wesolowski said in a press release.

The FCC has asked wireless carriers and industry partners to develop a better 988 georouting solution, but real change doesn’t happen without federal enforcement, Wesolowski told CNN.

On Wednesday, NAMI and a coalition of more than 40 national organizations sent a letter urging FCC and HHS leadership to take action to improve the routing of 988 calls.

We are talking about life and death, Wesolowski said in the statement. Everyone agrees with this policy and a workable solution exists. We just need our federal partners to act.

The 988 Lifeline was launched in July 2022, moving from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to a broader focus and simpler dialing code. Since then, 988 has received about 9.1 million calls, texts and chats, according to data released by the HHS Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Since its launch, the line has expanded to include services in Spanish and American Sign Language. It also has a special veterans crisis line, which can be reached by dialing 988 and pressing option 1, and an LGBTQ+ youth and young adult line, which can be accessed by pressing option 3.

In January, the average call response speed was 32 seconds and the average contact time was about 14 minutes, according to SAMHSA data.

The Biden-Harris administration has invested nearly a billion dollars in the initiative. Much of that investment has gone directly to states, territories and tribes to hire crisis counselors and improve local response, according to HHS officials.

There has been such significant investment in 988 and crisis services over the last few years, this is really about making sure we are making the best use of those investments by giving people the best possible help when they need it most, he said Wesolowski.

Nearly 50,000 people committed suicide in the United States in 2022, a record, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s one death every 11 minutes.

About 90 percent of American adults say America is experiencing a mental health crisis, according to a 2022 poll by CNN and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

This is worth fighting for; technology is worth working on; making mental health resources accessible to more people across this country is worth it, Rosenworcel said.

CNN Jacqueline Howard contributed to this report.

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