If You Want to Make a Call, You May Need to Dial This First, as of Oct. 24

A new policy is set to affect callers across 35 U.S. states.

For the most part, when calling local numbers, people in the U.S. have become accustomed to dialing just seven digits and getting connected. But the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is now warning that this will soon change for callers within 82 area codes spread across 35 states. A major policy is set to affect the way people in these areas make their calls, forcing them to dial extra numbers in order to get connected at all. Read on to find out if this change will hit you and what you need to know if it does.

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Callers in certain areas will need to start manually dialing their area code soon.

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People that use "988" as their local exchange—which is the first three numbers of a seven-digit telephone number that is able to connect locally without the area code—will soon be required to enter in their three-digit area code as well before dialing a local phone number, according to the FCC. This new rule goes into effect on Oct. 24 and affected phone calls dialed without the area code after this date won't be connected.

"On and after this date, local calls dialed with only seven digits may not connect, and a recording will inform you that your call cannot be completed as dialed. You must hang up and dial again using the area code and the seven-digit number," the FCC explained.

The FCC is making this change for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Oshkosh, WI / USA - April 10, 2020: A woman with a tattoo dials the national suicide hotline from its new 988 number from the floor in front of her scale. The number helps those with eating disorders
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This change is not without reason, however. According to the FCC, this new rule is being made to accommodate the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. In July 2020, the FCC ruled to make 988 the nationwide three-digit phone number for Americans to easily and quickly connect with the suicide prevention organization. Currently, people have to call an 11-digit number, 1-800-273-8255, to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The transition to a shorter number will take place on July 16, 2022.

"To prepare for implementation of a quick way to dial the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, these area codes must transition to ten-digit dialing for all calls, including local calls," the FCC explained.

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This new rule was put into place amid an influx of calls to mental health hotlines.

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Former President Donald Trump signed the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020—which created the new, three-digit number—into law on Oct. 17, 2020. This bill was put forward after mental health hotlines reported dramatic increases in call volumes during the beginning of the pandemic. The National Alliance on Mental Health's HelpLine service reported a 65 percent increase in calls between March and April last year compared to 2019, while the the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service (SAMHSA) Disaster Distress Helpline saw an 890 percent spike in call volume during the month of March 2020.

Suicide attempts surged among younger people during the pandemic.

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According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there was a significant spike in suicide attempts among teenagers over the course of the pandemic. Attempts among 12 to 17 year olds, especially adolescent girls, surged and became worse the longer social distancing orders and lockdowns persisted. The CDC also reported an increase of 31 percent in the proportion of mental health-related emergency department visits among those in this age group from Feb. 21 to Mar. 20, 2021 compared to 2019, while attempts just among girls this age increased by 50.6 percent during the same time period.

"Compared with the rate during the corresponding period in 2019, the rate of [emergency department] visits for suspected suicide attempts was 2.4 times as high during spring 2020, 1.7 times as high during summer 2020, and 2.1 times as high during winter 2021," the study stated. "This increase was driven largely by suspected suicide attempt visits among females."

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