988 mental health crisis calls may soon be routed based on location rather than area code

988 mental health crisis calls may soon be routed based on location rather than area code - Lifestyle & health - News

FCC Proposes Rule to Route 988 Crisis Calls Based on Caller’s Physical Location

The United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has initiated the process to adopt a new rule aimed at requiring telecommunications companies to route calls to the 988 suicide and crisis lifeline based on the callers’ physical locations instead of their phone numbers’ area codes.

Ensuring Timely and Safe Access to Mental Health Care

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel submitted a notice of proposed rulemaking to the full commission, anticipating a favorable vote in the upcoming weeks given the bipartisan support for this change.

Importance of Local Support

“When people reach out to 988 for help, they should have the confidence that the assistance they receive is local,” Rosenworcel stated in a press release.

The Role of 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

Operating 24/7, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline offers free emotional support to individuals in mental health crises and connects them with local resources. With over 200 local crisis centers across the country, this vital service has proven to be a valuable resource.

Limitations of Current Call Routing

Currently, callers are routed to a call center based on their area codes rather than physical locations. For instance, an individual in Los Angeles with a cell phone number bearing a New York area code would be connected to a crisis call center in New York.

Improving Accessibility and Efficiency

Senator Alex Padilla, co-founder of the Senate Mental Health Caucus, emphasized the importance of this new rule to ensure quick and safe access to mental health care for Americans.

Perspective from National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

Hannah Wesolowski, chief advocacy officer of NAMI, highlighted that most people retain their old phone numbers when they relocate. Consequently, the area code does not accurately represent their locations.

The Need for Change

“988 will only reach its full potential if every help-seeker is able to get immediate help and be connected with resources available where they are. There’s been too much progress made with 988 to stop short of this ideal,” Wesolowski stated in a news release.

Collaborative Efforts to Enhance 988 Routing

The FCC has encouraged wireless carriers and industry associates to develop a more effective 988 georouting solution. However, real progress will not materialize without federal enforcement.

Advocacy for Change

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

The Significance of 988

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

The Launch of 988 Crisis Line and its Impact

Since its launch in July 2022, the 988 crisis line has received approximately 9.1 million calls, texts, and chats. It now offers services in Spanish and American sign language, as well as a special veterans crisis line and an LGBTQ+ youth and young adult line.

Investment in Crisis Services

The Biden-Harris administration has invested nearly $1 billion into this initiative. The investment includes hiring crisis counselors and improving local response.

The Prevalence of Suicide and Mental Health Crisis in the US

In 2022, about 50,000 individuals died by suicide in the United States, marking a record high. Nearly 90% of American adults agree that the US is experiencing a mental health crisis.

The Importance of Investment and Technology

“This is worth the fight; it’s worth working on the technology; it’s worth making mental health resources accessible to more people everywhere in this country,” Rosenworcel reiterated.