Washington, D.C. — Earlier this week, President Donald Trump signed H.R. 2345, the “National Suicide Hotline Improvements Act of 2018,” which the White House says “requires the Federal Communications Commission, in coordination with the Departments of Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs, to study the feasibility of designating a three-digit dialing code for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline system.”
HB 2345, sponsored by Congressman Chris Stewart in the US House of Representatives, and its companion bill, sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch in the US Senate is the first step toward getting a nationwide three-digit code, like 911, designated to helping those with suicide thoughts and other mental health issues.
Utah Senator Daniel Thatcher has been championing this issue since 2013.
“It has consumed my life, and this is a giant leap in the right direction,” said Thatcher. “We’re all familiar with 911, which is used for emergencies, and I’m sure none of us under 50 remember life before 911. This legislation directs the FCC to look at the efficacy of the other 3-digit numbers and will set one up for mental health. This legislation is a huge deal! It is to mental health what 911 is to physical health. We lose more Utahns under 25 to mental health than to physical health. When it fully materializes, people who are contemplating suicide will have a 3-digit dial code to call, like 611, and there will be professionals answering calls to help people get through a crisis.”
The FCC will examine all 3-digit numbers, from 211-811, and decide which number is best. Thatcher is betting on 611.
So, what are all the 3-digit numbers currently used for? Let’s take a look:
- 211: Set up for government services. People can call and get help for unemployment, for example.
- 311: This is a vanity phone number for local governments. For example, if you have a briefcase in a New York City taxi, they will help you track it down. Thatcher says “311 does the same thing as 211.”
- 411: Not officially designated, but the FCC gave conditional approval for temporary use in 1993, but is widely known and used for information services.
- 511: Nationwide traffic and weather hotline. Used in some places to call and make sure roads are safe.
- 611: Not officially designated, the FCC gave conditional permission for telecom to use 611 for customer service. Thatcher says this is the least critical of these numbers, and the most likely to be chosen.
- 711: This is for the hearing impaired, for tele text.
- 811: This is the call before you dig a hole in your background hotline. It gets the utility companies to mark out your property before digging a hole — to avoid cutting a electrical or gas line.
- 911: Easily the best-known number in the world.
Thatcher has been working on this legislation in his home state of Utah since 2013.
”We discussed what to do with tip reporting on phone lines, and we learned that if a kid calls a suicide line it could take hours to get back with him. It just wasn’t staffed properly,” said Thatcher. “I knew we needed 24/7 coverage with mental health professionals. We needed texting capability, and we needed a phone number that people could remember. A 10-digit number isn’t something people could easily remember.”
So, Thatcher said he tried to get a 3-digit code passed in Utah.
“I wanted 311 to go to Utah for counseling services,” he said. “I worked with local leaders, and it just didn’t happen. We tried really hard to get it done. So, right now we’re using a national life line number. Most people don’t remember 10-digit numbers.”
After failing to get support in Utah, Thatcher approached Senator Hatch and Representative Stewart and they immediately saw the need. They called in experts and they conducted a round table to see how to best approach this. The group saw the value of designating a 3-digit number on a national scale.
Their bill, called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Improvement Act was passed in the US Congress several weeks ago, and was just signed Tuesday by President Trump.
Senator Hatch’s office released this statement:
“With this topic, my heart is both heavy and hopeful—heavy because suicide has already taken so many lives; hopeful because this legislation can turn the tide in the campaign against this epidemic,” said Hatch. “With this bill, we can prevent countless tragedies and help thousands of men and women get the help they so desperately need. I’m grateful this lifesaving proposal has been signed into law.”
Representative Stewart’s office released this statement:
“This is a great day for Utah and a great day for the Nation. We now have the opportunity to make the National Suicide Prevention Hotline more accessible and easier to remember. By creating a hotline dialing code that is short and easy to remember, we are taking an important step towards potentially averting tragedy. This new law truly has the ability to save lives. I’m grateful that the President signed this into law in a timely manner.”
It was a fantastic day for Thatcher, as well.
”I don’t think people understand what just happened,” said Thatcher. “I think we’ll look back and wonder how we ever lived without this. I may be crying all day.”
Editor’s Note: We know Senator Thatcher because he helped co-sponsor a bill in Utah that built on our #MarchKindness campaign. In Utah, the bill became known as #MSDKindness and encouraged citizens across Utah to conducts acts of kindness to honor those students killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, FL.