To the Editor:
Re Dr. Draper of the Lifeline Believes a Three-digit-number for Mental Health and Suicide Crisis will One Day be as Ubiquitous as 911 (Innovations article, May 21, 2019):
Dr. John Draper is correct that the United States needs a designated 3-digit number for mental health and suicide crisis. I wholeheartedly agree that the code the FCC assigns must be designated solely for mental health and suicide crisis: not for multi- or secondary-use. Adding this responsibility to either 211 or 911 would create confusion, unnecessary delays, and insufficient response during people’s most difficult moments. It would also hinder public messaging. The need for a centralized, easy-to-recall number, is more urgent than ever as suicides are on the rise in nearly all demographics across the nation. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death overall and, for people ages 10-34, it’s the 2nd leading cause of death. Let that sit a moment: for 24 years during childhood and adulthood, people are more likely to die by suicide than any other reason, outside of accidents.
We must do all we can to halt and reverse this upward trend. It’s in our nation’s public interest that people in distress rapidly obtain counsel and resources. A dedicated 3-digit hotline would create a telephonic network exclusive for that purpose, getting people the help they need and diverting calls from 911 and the Emergency Department. Both are vital parts of our nation’s emergency response, but neither is ideally situated to handle mental health and suicide crises. Furthermore, a designated 3-digit number for mental health would lessen the pressure on these overburdened systems. While there are other N11 numbers with varying degrees of public usage that could fit, the recent North American Numbering Council (NANC) report makes clear that expanding 211 to include mental health and suicide crisis could cause end-user confusion (is this the number we call for help?) and would likely result in insufficient coordination and longer implementation times as people filter through the system.
It’s critical that mental health and suicide crisis be given a designated N11 code so that people can get the help they need in the time they need it. Former Senator Orrin Hatch has recommended 611 as the only N11 not already in public use (but rather used internally by the telecoms). Repurposing 611 nationally for mental health crisis would be the first step for a breakthrough to support those in pain and begin the journey towards ending many tragic outcomes.
The writer serves as Vice President for Crisis and Disaster Management for Centerstone, overseeing the continuum of Centerstone’s Crisis Services. She is also the Crisis Center Division Chair for the American Association of Suicidology (AAS).
Want to join the conversation? The FCC has called for public comments with a deadline of June 7, 2019. File your comment here using the proceeding number “18-336.”
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