Trump Moves to Establish a Three-Digit Suicide Hotline

Alicia Ault

August 30, 2018

President Donald J. Trump has signed a bill directing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to join together to study the feasibility of instituting a new, easy-to-remember, three-digit number to function as a national suicide hotline.

The number would take the place of the current national suicide lifeline number, 1-800-273-TALK, and is to be modeled after the successful 911 emergency system.

The National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act directs the FCC to submit a report to Congress that would include a recommended dialing code, a cost-benefit analysis comparing the three-digit code to the current hotline, and an assessment of how much it might cost service providers, states, local towns, and cities

The hotline overhaul effort was spearheaded by Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, who introduced the bill in May 2017 with cosponsor Joe Donnelly (D-IN). The bill passed the Senate in November 2017 but did not make it through the House until July 23, when it sailed through by a vote of 379 to 1.

"We applaud Congress for passing this important legislation that will make it easier for Americans to access free and confidential emotional support if they are in suicidal crisis or emotional distress," said John Madigan, senior vice president for public policy for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention after the bill passed the House.

Hatch thanked Trump for signing the legislation. "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," he said in a statement.

Hatch said he began the effort because he believed the current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline system and Veterans Crisis Line were "in desperate need of reform." The current lifeline number "is not an intuitive or easy number to remember — particularly for those experiencing a mental health emergency," said Hatch.

Congress did not provide any direct funding for the overhaul effort. It directed the FCC, SAMHSA, and the VA to conduct the feasibility study with existing appropriations.

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