U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin’s bipartisan reform to designate a three-digit phone number for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline has passed the full Senate. The legislation will help ensure states have the flexibility to strengthen local crisis call centers and save lives.
“In America, we lose about 45,000 people every year to suicide, including more than 6,100 veterans, making it one of the leading causes of death in this country,” said Senator Baldwin. “We need to do everything we can to prevent suicide and that means improving the tools we have to help people who are suffering from depression or other mental health issues. I’m very proud my bipartisan legislation has passed the full Senate so we can make it as quick and easy as possible for Americans in crisis to get the help and support they need through the National Suicide Hotline.”
The current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Veterans Crisis line are 10-digits, which is a barrier to Americans in crisis seeking support. The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act directs the FCC to designate 9-8-8 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and allows veterans to press “1” after dialing 9-8-8 to be routed automatically to the Veterans Crisis Line for veteran-specific mental health support. Death by suicide is a severe problem in the veteran community with about 17 veterans committing suicide every day, on average. In 2017, in Wisconsin for example, one out of every five people who died by suicide was a veteran.
The bipartisan legislation also recognizes that certain groups, including LGBTQ youth, Native Americans and people in rural areas, are at greater risk of suicide. It 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 how best to implement a process so that callers from these and other high-risk populations can access specialized services.
Baldwin introduced this bipartisan reform with Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Jerry Moran (R-KS). A bipartisan group of 28 other senators cosponsored the legislation.