Local congressman among many seeking universal telephone number for national suicide prevention and mental health
U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, is one of 49 co-sponsors of a bipartisan bill in Congress to designate one, universal phone number for national suicide prevention and mental health.
“When experiencing an emergency, everyone knows to dial 9-1-1, but now those dealing with a mental health crisis will have an easy to remember number that will provide them with the help they need,” stated Collins in a release this week. “This legislation is crucial in saving the lives of Americans all over the United States and end the stigma surrounding mental health.”
The legislation would designate 988 as the universal number for those in crisis. Once implemented, people would just need to dial 988 to seek help. Currently, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline uses a 10-digit number, 800-273-TALK (8255). Callers are routed to one of 163 crisis centers, where counselors answered 2.2 million calls last year.
A law passed last year required the Federal Communications Commission to study assigning a three-digit number for suicide prevention, like 911 for emergencies or 311 for city services. The FCC said in a Wednesday report that there is "overwhelming support" for a three-digit number because it would be easier for distressed people to get help.
The government's action comes as suicide rates have increased across the U.S. over the past two decades, and dramatically so — by more than 30% — in half of U.S. states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There were 45,000 deaths in 2016.
The new, shorter number would likely lead to more calls, which in turn would mean more expenses for crisis centers already struggling to keep up. The FCC estimates that if the number of calls to the hotline doubled, centers would need an extra $50 million a year to handle the increase.
Collins added that the legislation would authorize states to collect a fee limited to supporting local crisis centers that are affiliated within the national network area that funds the suicide hotline services similar to that of existing emergency services. The legislation would also set a deadline of one year for the FCC to complete the nationwide upgrade to ensure all lines have access to 988.
Including reporting by The Associated Press