Lawmakers look to shorten suicide prevention hotline number

Both talk therapy and medications can be effective for reducing the risk of suicide.  (photo: MGN)
Both talk therapy and medications can be effective for reducing the risk of suicide. (photo: MGN)(KWQC)
Published: Dec. 11, 2019 at 6:22 PM CST
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It could soon be quicker and easier for those experiencing a mental health emergency to get the help they need.

Lawmakers are looking to make a change to one important suicide prevention resource. 1-800-273-8255 is the current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number. It was launched in 2005 and although it’s helped millions of Americans, officials say for some it can be difficult to remember the number in the middle of a crisis but that could soon change.

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin says last year, more than 45,000 Americans committed suicide, including more than 900 Wisconsinites. Baldwin says one in five of those individuals are veterans of our armed services.

To address this, the Senate Commerce Committee has passed bipartisan legislation introduced by Baldwin. The reform looks to shorten the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline number from a 10 digit number to a 988.

Baldwin says the current number can be difficult for some people to memorize when they need it.

Just as 911 is known for emergencies, 988 would become the number for mental health crisis calls.

Local mental health experts agree this change could help save many more lives. "When you are going through a mental health crisis, a lot of times you have a cognitive block and you can’t really think clearly so to have a three digit number could really be life saving for some people," said Kelly Lauscher, Community Health Educator at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire.

She says 9 out of 10 people who get connected to appropriate help when they're feeling suicidal never become suicidal again. "If they do have suicidal thoughts, they are thinking that that's the only solution at that time so instead of calling 911 and having law enforcement come and taxing emergency rooms at local hospitals sometimes just that caring voice on the other end of the line is something that they need," said Lauscher.

If this becomes a reality, after dialing 988 there will also be an option for veterans to then press 1 to be routed directly to veteran-specific support. Senator Baldwin says once this legislation becomes law, the Federal Communications Committee will have the authority to officially change the number.

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