T-Mobile has activated the new 988 suicide prevention hotline on its network, the company announced on Friday. It is the first major wireless provider to make the new mental health lifeline available to its customers.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had unanimously voted to make 988 the official three-digit suicide prevention hotline in July this year. The idea was to make it easier for Americans to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) in case of an emergency.
Currently, users need to dial a 10-digit number 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) to reach NSPL. Replacing it with a three-digit hotline makes access to free emergency mental health services faster and easier. The previous helpline will continue to exist though. Just that calls to 988 will also now connect you to NSPL.
The FCC had asked all phone service providers, including Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service providers, to complete this transition by July 16th, 2022. T-Mobile, however, has activated the hotline more than 18 months ahead of the deadline.
"Making 988 available to our customers was a matter of urgency for us, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and the holiday season approaches," said Abdul Saad, T-Mobile's Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, in a statement on Friday.
T-Mobile becomes the first carrier to activate the 988 NSPL hotline
Suicide is a national health crisis and the 10th leading cause of death in the US. Over 48,000 Americans die by suicide annually — one death every 11 minutes. The crisis has been compounded this year by the ever-growing COVID-19 pandemic. A larger number of people than ever are reportedly showing signs of clinical anxiety or depression during this pandemic.
Easier access to emergency mental health services was the need of the hour. Acting on that, T-Mobile has made the 988 NSPL hotline available to its customers. Users who dial 988 on the Un-carrier's network will now have free access to approximately 180 NSPL crisis centers across the nation and get lifesaving mental health services from professionally trained counselors.
T-Mobile says it has modified its nationwide network to direct all calls to 988 to the existing NSPL helpline. The company has also updated its billing system to ensure that customers aren't accidentally charged for calls made to 988.
Additionally, since the 988 number isn't able to receive text messages, T-Mobile will send a bounce-back message to anyone who tries texting the number. The bounce-back message will advise them to place a voice call to 988.
Back in July, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworce had rued the lack of texting provision with this new three-digit hotline. She feared this may undermine the efforts as voice service is "not native for most young people."
Jessica suggested that texting is the "primary form of communication" among teenagers and "we should acknowledge that". She hoped the 988 hotline will gain texting capabilities in the future. That said, those who prefer to text rather than talk about mental health issues can reach NSPL over online chats as well.