Anyone can remember three simple numbers.
To report a car crash, heart attack or other standard emergencies, no one fumbles around looking for a protracted phone number. Just call 911.
To dig in a yard without hitting a wire or pipe, call 811. For problems with a smartphone, 611. For traffic information, 511.
For those contemplating suicide, society has no simple three-digit number. Instead, when seconds can mean life or death, people needing immediate professional help must look up a local, regional or national suicide hotline that typically requires punching 11 numbers into a phone.
We need a three-digit suicide line every individual knows by heart.
Until that happens, we encourage everyone to know this number: 1-844-493-8255 (TALK). Or this: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).
The first number goes to Colorado Crisis Services. The second is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, called by more than 2.2 million people in crisis in 2018. Funded by the Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the national toll-free number links 163 suicide and mental health crisis centers throughout the country.
The Federal Communications Commission issued a 70-page report in August recommending one three-digit number for the country. It would link to “a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline system.”
The FCC devised the report in response to the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018, in which Congress directed the agency to “analyze the effectiveness of the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, including how well it is working to address the needs of veterans.”
The report recommends “988,” mostly because “it is not currently assigned as an area code…”
In 2017, the report explains, “more than 47,000 Americans died by suicide and more than 1.4 million adults attempted suicide.” Suicide increased in 49 of the 50 states in recent years, and by more than 20% in more than half of the 49.
On the heels of the FCC report, members of Congress last week introduced the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act to establish a 988 system. U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah and U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., explain in the Washington Post that an average of 20 veterans a day kill themselves, even though they represent only 7 percent of the population.
“We are both veterans, so this hits especially close to home,” the congressmen wrote.
“In many states, multiple government and nonprofit agencies provide overlapping services, and each entity has its own phone number. For example, people can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, but callers must search for and then dial 1-800-273-8255. That is one step too many in a crisis.”
Colorado has a worse-than-average mental health care crisis, as detailed in a series this year by The Gazette. Toward resolving it, we ask Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner and the rest of Colorado’s congressional delegation to get behind the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act to help make it law soon.
Colorado has a high concentration of veterans and the country’s sixth-highest suicide rate, with nearly 17 out of every 100,000 people killing themselves each year. A city of a half-million people can expect to lose at least 85 men, women and children to suicide each year. For military towns, such as the Springs, the number is certainly higher. If a disease kills that many, we declare war on a virus and spare no expense trying to kill it.
The statewide and national mental health care crisis presents a long and complicated challenge. We are faced with a shortage of mental health care professionals and cannot churn out more by flipping a switch or passing a law.
Though not a panacea, a 988 system could better coordinate the country’s mental health services. It could save the lives of those who lack the wherewithal to search for a lifeline. Let’s embrace 988 and save more lives.