In an effort to better address the national suicide crisis, a three-digit hotline is set to become active in 2022.
In signing the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act on October, President Donald Trump finalized the establishment of a new hotline for suicide prevention. Beginning July 2022, residents of the U.S. will be able to dial 9-8-8 and be connected to mental health services at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
“When your house is on fire, you can get help by calling 9-1-1,” said Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), one of the primary sponsors of the legislation. “The new number is a national step forward out of the shadows of stigma that prevent too many people from getting help and into a new era when mental health care is easy to get and normal to talk about. This bill will save lives.”
Congressman Chris Stewart (R-UT) introduced the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, H.R. 4194, with leading co-sponsors Rep. Moulton, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), and Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT).
Stewart said, “I am truly honored to lead on the Utah-based initiative to get a three-digit, easy-to-remember, dialing code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Suicide hits close to home with an average of two Utahns taking their life every day. This dialing code is an essential step in providing critical resources to those in emotional distress.”
Johnson added, “As a former chief psychiatric nurse, I have spent my career advocating for more accessible mental health resources in our communities. In my home state of Texas, thousands of lives are tragically lost to suicide every year – averaging a life lost every two hours. This bipartisan effort to designate a three-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will simplify access to these resources for our constituents in their times of need.”
The act requires the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to follow up with a designated strategy to provide access to services for high-risk populations including minorities and disadvantaged populations including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth and people who live in rural areas.
“This law is a historic victory, as this is the first explicitly LGBTQ-inclusive bill to pass unanimously in history ― and 9-8-8 will undoubtedly save countless lives,” said Sam Brinton, Vice President of Advocacy and Government Affairs at the Trevor Project. They added, the “Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 40% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past 12 months. More than half of transgender and nonbinary youth having seriously considered it.”
Robert Gebbia, CEO of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said, “This easy-to-remember number will increase public access to mental health and suicide prevention crisis resources, encourage help-seeking for individuals in need, and is a crucial entry point for establishing a continuum of crisis care.” He would like to see more funding be made available for crisis programs “to respond to what we expect will be an increased call volume and provide effective crisis services to those in need when 9-8-8 is made available in July 2022.”
Suicide is currently the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, also known as the original “suicide hotline,” is a free service that was established in 2005. In 2019 alone, the hotline took 2.2 million calls. Until the new number is active in July 2022, those in crisis should continue to call the NSL at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).