Gardner’s national 9-8-8 suicide hotline bill passes Senate

May 13, 2020

By Darcia Johnson & Anusha Roy

WASHINGTON — A bill that would designate 9-8-8 as a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline unanimously passed the Senate on Wednesday. 

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), introduced this bipartisan legislation with Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Jack Reed (D-RI). 

“We lose a Coloradan to death by suicide on average every 7 hours & we must keep fighting to provide mental health support to Coloradans in need, particularly in this time of crisis.,” Gardner said in a tweet.

Vincent Atchity, executive director for Mental Health Colorado, last year said launching a new three-digit emergency line could help remove an obstacle to get help because it would be easier to remember and connect someone to a person specifically trained in providing mental health support.  

Atchity also said if law enforcement is needed in a situation, they would be called in. 

Atchity said although 9-8-8 would be a national number, it would route people to local services. 

“So here in Colorado, a call to 9-8-8 might direct you to the Colorado Crisis Services,” he said.

“I think it would help tremendously,” he added,” It’s a number a child could learn; we could learn 988 the way we’ve learned 911.”

At the Rocky Mountain Crisis Services center, where the phone rings more than 180,000 times a year, CEO Bev Marquez said in January that having quality time to spend on those calls is very important. 

This center takes both from both the state-run helpline, Colorado Crisis Services (844-493-8255), as well as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255).

Marquez likes the idea of dialing 9-8-8 instead of the 10-digit number for the national line because it would simplify the process.

“Overall value,” said Marquez. “We absolutely support it.” 

She also anticipates this would increase their call volume by 40%, which would require an additional $750,000 a year to help bring on 12 more full-time staff members.

The bill will go before the House and if passed could be signed into law by President Donald Trump. 

The FCC voted to establish 9-8-8 in December.

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