In a bipartisan effort to counter rising suicides, the U.S. Senate, Thursday unanimously passed legislation, designating 9-8-8 as a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) co-authored The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act (S. 2661), with Senators Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) as a new, national number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, replacing the ten-digit 800-273-8255.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides around the clock, free and confidential support, prevention, and crisis resources. Stream-lining the number from ten digits to 9-8-8 will allow those experiencing a mental health crisis to get instant access to mental health experts.
“The national suicide hotline is a real lifesaver. It has proven to be effective for those who use it and simplifying the number will expand the lifeline’s reach. A nationwide, three-digit number for suicide prevention and mental health crises will connect people with the specialized help they need, when they need it,” said Senator Reed.
“People know 9-1-1 is for emergencies and 3-1-1 is for local services. Now we need to raise awareness to ensure people know 9-8-8 is for suicide prevention. We also have to back the hotline up with adequate resources and appropriate staffing levels,” added Reed.
The 9-8-8 number would become the new national number and would route callers to local services. This includes over 160 crisis centers, with trained suicide prevention and mental health professionals. To guarantee that local call centers could support the increased call volumes, the law would allow states to collect payments.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention there is an average of 132 suicides a day. In 2018, over 48,000 suicides were reported, and almost a million and a half suicide attempts.
Vibrant Emotional Health, previously known as the Mental Health Association of New York City (MHA-NYC), administers the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the NFL Life Line, NYC Well, and other crisis intervention services across the country, believes the new number could help suicide prevention efforts.
“We applaud the bill sponsors, Senators Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) for their leadership at this crucial time. As we grapple with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, accessible and free mental health crisis services are vital and needed now more than ever,” Frances Gonzalez Senior Director of Marketing and Communications at Vibrant Emotional Health told the Epoch Times.
“As the administrators of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Vibrant believes a three-digit number will increase the effectiveness of suicide prevention efforts, ease access to crisis services, reduce the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health conditions, and ultimately save lives,” added Gonzalez.
Last year, crisis counselors answered about 2.2 million calls from the national lifeline, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
The FCC approved the switch to 9-8-8 as the national suicide hotline number in 2019.
Reed and U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) wrote and introduced the Suicide Prevention Act (S. 3198) earlier this year to authorize funding for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, giving state and local health departments the funds they need to improve their ability to monitor and record suicide attempts and other mental health crises.
The next step for The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act is to move to the House of Representatives to be voted on before the can President sign it into law.