10/25/2019 — 

PROVIDENCE, RI – Nobody in crisis should ever have to suffer in silence or battle suicidal thoughts on their own.  Providing an easily accessible suicide prevention hotline number is one way to better connect people in crisis to lifesaving help.  U.S. Senator Jack Reed is proposing new legislation to do just that.

This week, Senator Reed introduced new legislation to create a new national three-digit hotline for people who are feeling suicidal or experiencing a mental health crisis.  The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, a bipartisan bill co-authored by Senator Reed, would make 988 the new National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number to call for help, replacing the current 10-digit number: (800) 273-TALK (8255).

Today, at a forum on suicide prevention hosted by the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), Senator Reed joined RIDOH Director Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, BH Link, The Samaritans of Rhode Island, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and mental health advocates to discuss how shortening the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to just three digits – 988 – will help save lives in Rhode Island and nationwide.

Senator Reed is also advocating real parity for mental health coverage and the needed additional federal resources to help staff suicide prevention call centers and train clinicians in suicide prevention; provide life-saving crisis and suicide prevention services; and for research initiatives to determine more effective interventions and ways to reach people in need.

“You are not alone.  Help is available.  And we as a community need to do a better job of encouraging people to open up and talk about mental health issues, ensure mental and physical health care is accessible and affordable, and connect people in crisis to supportive life-saving services,” said Senator Reed.  “One of the ways we can help is by streamlining the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.  If someone is in crisis, 988 is a lot easier to remember than a ten-digit number.  And we have to back up this number by investing in suicide prevention call centers, training, and research to ensure we are effectively doing everything we can to help save lives. Every death by suicide is a tragic and heartbreaking loss.  Thanks to the outstanding organizations assembled here today, Rhode Island is making real progress when it comes to suicide prevention.  But on a national level, the suicide rate among teenagers has spiked and we’ve got to do more, and we’ve got to address every possible cause of this tragic epidemic, including making service member and veteran suicide prevention a national priority.”

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, across the United States. Since 2004, the Lifeline, which is comprised of a national network of over 150 local crisis centers, has combined custom local care and resources to people in need coupled with national standards and best practices.

“We need to get help to people with behavioral health issues quickly, and in a way that is affirming, compassionate, consistent, and effective, in the same way that we do for physical health conditions. This change to a three-digit suicide prevention hotline number would be a huge step in that direction,” said RIDOH Director Dr. Alexander-Scott.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10 through 34 and the fourth leading cause of death among ages 35 through 54.  And the latest statistics from the National Association of Mental Health show that in 2017, there were more than twice as many suicides (47,173) in the United States as there were homicides (19,510).  That same year, 15.9 percent of surveyed Rhode Island high school students stated they had considered suicide, according to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

On average, there are 129 suicides per day nationwide.  The three-year average (2016-2018) for suicide deaths in Rhode Island is 121.  And on a national level, the suicide rate among teenagers and young adults spiked in the decade between 2007 and 2017, jumping more than 50 percent.  Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens aged 15 to 19 behind accidents.

Starting this past summer, when callers in Rhode Island dial the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline they are connected to BH Link, a 24/7 facility for Rhode Islanders experiencing behavioral health crises, including substance use disorder, and for the families and friends of those individuals struggling to find help.  Over the last year, BH Link has received 5,087 mental health and substance use crisis calls.

“It’s just a wonderful idea to have this call turn into a three-digit number, to make it much easier for people to get in touch with clinicians who are local to Rhode Island and can help people who are suicidal,” said Corinna Roy, Director of BHDDH’s Behavioral Healthcare Division, which provides funding for BH Link. “We want to thank Senator Reed for bringing this forward.”

Jim Ryczek, CEO of Horizon Healthcare Partners applauded Senator Reed for his efforts, stating: “The suicide hotlines are often the first point of intervention for a person at risk of suicide. We need to make it easy for someone to make that call. The proposal to make the number easy to remember is a transformative proposal. We also need to make it ok for people to make that call by removing the stigma for those struggling with mental health and depression. It has to be ok not to be ok.”

Rhode Island has several suicide prevention resources including BH Link, The Samaritans, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, community mental health centers, and RI Emergency 911.  In 2018, The Samaritans of Rhode Island received more than 4,387 Hotline/Listening Line calls.

“Suicide is considered a missed opportunity in prevention. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline makes referrals to The Samaritans and other agencies serving Rhode Island. We support Senator Reed’s commitment to close whatever gaps there are in accessing our state’s suicide prevention and behavioral health resources,” said Denise Panichas, executive director of The Samaritans of Rhode Island.

In addition to leading efforts to increase funding for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and streamline it to three digits, Senator Reed also authored and passed the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, which helps improve access to counseling for at-risk teens.  Each year, Garrett Lee Smith Suicide Prevention Grants provide about $42 million annually for a variety of youth suicide prevention activities from mental health counseling to outreach on college campuses and in communities.

Missy Ames, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention stated: “This country needs a 3-digit number for mental health that is as easy to remember as 911.  Designating this 3-digit number will make it easier for those in crisis to seek help and will reinforce the message that mental health is as important as physical health. This is something we must prioritize and not feel ashamed to address.  We must work to create a culture here in Rhode Island and nationwide where we support one another in seeking help when we feel our mental health is declining, just as we support one another through other health challenges. Thank you for bringing Hope nationwide. We look forward to continuing a partnership with all of you to bring suicide Out of the Darkness.” 

If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-TALK or (800) 273-8255, or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call 401-414-LINK (5465) or visit www.BHLink.org or The Samaritans of Rhode Island at (401) 272-4044 or (800) 365-4044 or visit www.samaritansri.org.