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The Federal Communications Commission will vote Dec. 12 whether to establish a new, three-digit suicide hotline number.

“When I was growing up, suicide was generally considered a taboo subject in our country,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai at a Nov. 19 press conference. “Many embraced the view that talking about suicide would encourage it. We understand today, of course, that the opposite is true. By speaking openly about suicide, we reduce the stigma surrounding the subject.”

The current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1-800-273-8255. Pai recommends that the number 9-8-8 be established to route calls to local crisis centers that are part of the lifeline.

Colorado's U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner has also introduced legislation for 9-8-8, which includes tying the number in to the Veterans Crisis Line, which the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs staffs.

In August, the FCC released a study that gathered input from other federal agencies. Recommendations for other three-digit numbers included 2-1-1 and 5-1-1, known as N11 codes. The North American Numbering Council concluded that 9-8-8 was preferable because it was not an existing area code, nor would Americans need education about an existing, repurposed N11 number.

Bev Marquez, CEO of Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners, said access to professional help is critical to suicide prevention.

“A three-digit number will definitely be easier to remember and will result in significant utilization for a whole continuum of questions and needs related to behavioral health," she stated. "It is critical to have adequate capacity, expertise and follow-up for this service to move the needle in suicide prevention. The ease of number conversation cannot be had without the discussion of funding, infrastructure and evaluation.” 

After the FCC’s vote, the proposed regulation will begin its public comment period before it takes effect. The National Council for Behavioral Health reports that suicide is the tenth-leading cause of death in the country, with over 47,000 victims in 2017.

Colorado Politics' Joey Bunch contributed to this report.

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