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FCC considers rule change to make 988 suicide hotline more accessible

The agency could require phone companies to direct calls for help based on the caller's physical location rather than their area code.
FCC considers rule change to make 988 suicide hotline more accessible
Posted at 10:49 AM, Mar 28, 2024

The Federal Communications Commission is considering a rule change that will make getting help more accessible when calling the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

The change being considered is a requirement from phone companies to direct calls for help based on the caller's physical location rather than their area code. For example, right now if you have a 716 area code but flew across the country, you would still be connected with Buffalo, New York, when calling 988.

Scripps News Buffalo spoke with mental health experts to learn how this change could play a vital role in helping people in their time of need.

"We really would like geolocation not only for the purposes of people getting the care they need quicker but for there to be a better reflection of the work that each center is doing for their community," said Robyn Wiktorski-Reynolds Vice President of Clinical Operations at Crisis Services.

She said the center has gone from fielding 5,000 calls a year to 1,000 calls a month.

"I think it just would be a better representation of where the need actually is and who may need more resources or some things to be reallocated," said Wiktorski-Reynolds.

SEE MORE: In its first year, 988 has had a dramatic impact

Another important factor is getting to the crisis as soon as possible.

"You know, the most important thing is get the call out to the people that are going to come right away," said Robert Cannata with Spectrum Health.

Cannata said the focus should be on the person — not the planning

"You need to have someone that sounds like, 'OK, I get you. I can help you now. Work with me on this,'" said Cannata. "It helps if you're not having to pinpoint all these logistics like, 'oh, you're calling from Denver, Colorado, okay, I didn't realize that."

And in a crisis, time is everything.

"Especially when you're talking about someone who is high risk in terms of lethality, timing is really important," said Wiktorski-Reynolds.

If you need to talk to someone, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988 or text "HOME" to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. 

This story was originally published by Hannah Ferrera at Scripps News Buffalo.


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