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Bipartisan Congressional Group Seeks Expedited Consideration Of Legislation To Implement 9-8-8 National Suicide Hotline

Letter from bipartisan House Suicide Prevention leaders follows FCC vote to designate 9-8-8 as nationwide suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline

Washington, January 17, 2020

A bipartisan delegation of 60 U.S. Representatives today wrote to leadership of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce seeking expedited consideration of legislation to implement the 9-8-8 national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline. The effort was led by Reps. Don Beyer (D-VA), Greg Gianforte (R-MT), John Katko (R-NY), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Chris Stewart (R-UT), Seth Moulton (D-MA), and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX).

Their letter followed a unanimous vote by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) designating 9-8-8 as the National Suicide Prevention & Mental Health Hotline.

The Representatives wrote:

“We commend this effort and want to make sure that it is implemented successfully. To that effect, we respectfully request that you expedite consideration for legislation that will help ensure the success of the new number to meet the eighteen-month timeframe:

“The Campaign to Prevent Suicide Act, H.R.4585, sets up an educational campaign to advertise the new number and raise awareness for suicide prevention resources and cultivate a more effective discourse on how to prevent suicide.

“The Suicide Prevention Lifeline Improvement Act, H.R.4564, will ensure the Lifeline can provide effective and timely responses to people in distress.

The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, H.R. 4194, which will formally designate the number but also creates the telecommunications infrastructure necessary to implement the new 9-8-8 number itself.”

Text of the letter follow below and a signed copy is available here.

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Dear Chair Pallone and Ranking Member Walden:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has formally started the process of designating 9-8-8 as a new, nationwide, 3-digit number for a suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline. This number will be directed to the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a national network of 163 crisis centers that is funded by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The FCC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposes requiring that all telecommunications carriers and interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol service providers make, within 18 months, any network changes necessary to ensure that users can dial 9-8-8 to reach the Lifeline. 

We commend this effort and want to make sure that it is implemented successfully. To that effect, we respectfully request that you expedite consideration for legislation that will help ensure the success of the new number to meet the eighteen-month timeframe:

The Campaign to Prevent Suicide Act, H.R.4585, sets up an educational campaign to advertise the new number and raise awareness for suicide prevention resources and cultivate a more effective discourse on how to prevent suicide. The bill would provide guidance to TV and social media companies on how to talk about suicide by creating a best practices toolkit. A similar toolkit was developed for journalists with success. The FCC stated that a suicide prevention education campaign would be necessary for this new number change.

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline Improvement Act, H.R.4564, will ensure the Lifeline can provide effective and timely responses to people in distress. In 2018, trained Lifeline counselors answered over 2.2 million calls and over 100,000 online chats. The new number will increase call volume, wait times and will further constrain the network which could reduce access to this life-saving resource. This bill will ensure the Lifeline can meet the demand and ensure the resources provided are meaningful and effective.

The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, H.R. 4194, which will formally designate the number but also creates the telecommunications infrastructure necessary to implement the new 9-8-8 number itself.

We’ve seen a 33% increase in suicides since 1999. That’s an epidemic. We must do more to address this crisis. A 3-digit suicide hotline number will help ease access to crisis services, reduce the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health conditions, and ultimately save lives. We support its implementation and request that you expedite these bills to ensure the new number’s success.

Sincerely,