5/14/2020 — 

WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to combat rising suicide rates, a bipartisan 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 unanimously passed the U.S. Senate last night. 

The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act (S. 2661), which Senator Reed co-authored with Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Jerry Moran (R-KS) designates 9-8-8 as a new, national number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, replacing the ten digit 800-273-8255 (TALK).

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 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.”

This bipartisan legislation will allow states to collect fees to ensure local call centers can support increased volume.

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).

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.

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 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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.

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.

Now that is has been approved by the full U.S. Senate, the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act must still be voted on by the U.S. House of Representatives.  The bill must be approved by both the House and the Senate before it can be sent to the President’s desk to be signed into law.