Behavioral health organizations from around the United States are urging Congress to adopt the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act (H.R. 4194). In August, House Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Chris Stewart (R-UT), Seth Moulton (D-MA), and Greg Gianforte (R-MT) introduced the act and designated 9-8-8 as the universal phone number for mental health and suicide crisis. They incorporated the three-digit number recommended by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in its report earlier that month. The act has garnered bipartisan support and experts say that making a three-digit number a reality will allow people in crisis to get a rapid response and be matched to an appropriate level of care. Wendy Martinez Farmer, MS, LPC, President & CEO of Behavioral Health Link, said the number is formal recognition that these crises are on par with medical emergencies, getting people immediate access to caring professionals trained to help. “This not only ensures specialized care but gives 911, Fire, and Police the bandwidth to respond to other emergencies.”
Becky Stoll, LCSW, Vice President of Crisis & Disaster Management at Centerstone, says adoption of the number will increase access, break down stigma, and save lives. “A dedicated three-digit number for those experiencing a mental health crisis would be a landmark step for the field of mental health; making it easier to support those in emotional pain and begin the journey toward healing.” Dr. John Draper, Ph.D., Project Director of the SAMHSA-funded National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network, says he believes the three-digit number could help millions of more people in crisis. “It could transform the way people seek and receive all levels of crisis care in the U.S. in much the same way that the establishment of 911 affected medical and law enforcement assistance in communities across the country.” Leaders in the behavioral health field also want to ensure that the line is fully funded and available to everyone.
There is another bill on the table, and likely there will be more to come, trying to address the rising number of suicides. On September 12th, U.S. Representatives John Katko (R-NY), Don Beyer (D-VA), co-chairs of the House Suicide Prevention Task Force, and Grace Napolitano (D-CA), founder and co-chair of the Congressional Mental Health Caucus introduced the Barriers to Suicide Act. The act would provide grants to state and local governments to create physical barriers and nets on bridges.