WASHINGTON, DC – On Saturday night, shortly before 8 p.m., President Trump signed into law a bill co-authored by U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) to designate 9-8-8 as a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline.  The hotline is currently accessible using the 10-digit number, 1-800-273-8255 (TALK), and after a planning, public outreach, and education campaign, the new three digit number will go into effect in 2022.

The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act (S. 2661) was co-authored by U.S. Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Jack Reed. 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support, prevention, and crisis resources.  Trimming the number from ten digits to 9-8-8 will help make it easier for people to remember and ensure those experiencing a mental health crisis or having suicidal thoughts can quickly access the help they need.

“The national suicide hotline is a proven lifesaver and this legislation will connect more people to the help they need, when they need it.  The simplified, nationwide, three-digit number will expand the lifeline’s reach and link people to professional assistance,” said Senator Reed.  “People know 9-1-1 is for emergencies and 3-1-1 is for local services.  Now we must raise awareness to ensure people know 9-8-8 is for suicide prevention.  Just as importantly, we need to back the hotline up with adequate resources and appropriate staffing levels.”

This bipartisan legislation will allow states to collect fees to ensure local call centers can support increased volume.  It also recognizes that a variety of underserved populations, including LGBTQ youth, Native Americans, and people in rural areas, may be at higher risk of contemplating suicide and face unique challenges to getting assistance.  Therefore, the law requires the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to report to Congress on its plans to facilitate specific training programs for serving these communities through the hotline, as well as plans to implement a process so that callers from high-risk populations can access specialized services.

Even though 9-8-8 would become a new national number, it would still route people in need to local services.  When someone calls the National Suicide Hotline they are automatically routed to one of over 160 crisis centers, each with accredited and trained suicide prevention and mental health counselors.  Last year, crisis counselors answered about 2.2 million calls from the national lifeline, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) latest Leading Causes of Death Report, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of over 48,300 people in 2018, which accounts for more than two and half times the number of homicides (18,830).

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.

Reed is also the lead author of the bipartisan Suicide Prevention Act (S. 3198) to improve suicide data collection and fund additional resources to train emergency careworkers in suicide prevention strategies.  Reed and U.S. Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) introduced the bill earlier this year to authorize funding for the CDC to partner with state and local health departments to improve surveillance of suicide attempts and other incidences of self-harm.  Current data collection efforts regarding suicide are often years after the fact, which limits the ability of state and local health departments, as well as community organizations, to recognize trends early and intervene.  This new effort would enhance data collection and sharing, as appropriate, in real time to help save lives.  This bill would also fund new suicide prevention programs in emergency departments to better train staff in suicide prevention strategies, screen at-risk patients, and refer patients to appropriate follow-up care.

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 call the Samaritans of Rhode Island at (401) 272-4044 or (800) 365-4044 or visit www.samaritansri.org.

Senator Reed noted: “This new law will make it easier for people in crisis to get the assistance they need.  Now we must work diligently to implement this plan into action and make sure the FCC and its partners can make a seamless transition.  Until that occurs, people should continue using the national lifeline 1-800-273-8255 number.”