SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. Senate this week passed Sen. Orrin Hatch's bill asking the Federal Communications Commission to review the possibility of creating a national three-digit hotline for suicide prevention.
Hatch, R-Utah, contends that such a hotline is critical to improving the accessibility of mental health professionals for Americans in crisis. He said Tuesday that he has met with "dozens of families" in the past year who have lost a person they love to suicide and that "in their moments of crisis, they didn't know where to turn for help."
"While there is no perfect solution to this devastating problem, this legislation is a step in the right direction," Hatch said in a statement. "By providing those who suffer with faster, easier access to lifesaving resources, we can prevent countless tragedies."
The Senate passed the bill, called the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act, by unanimous consent on Tuesday.
"I urge my colleagues in the House to act quickly on this crucial legislation and get it to the president’s desk to be signed into law,” Hatch said.
The bill's text states a formal request would be made that the FCC "study the feasibility of designating a simple, easy-to-remember dialing code to be used for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline system." The agency would have one year from the passage of the bill to submit a report on whether its experts consider the creation of such a phone number doable.
Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., is the co-sponsor of the bill. Like Hatch, he urged the House of Representatives to "quickly pass this legislation" and said "it could make a difference for families in Indiana and across the country."
“This legislation would require the Federal Communications Commission to review the national suicide prevention hotline, including whether a particular three-digit dialing number should replace the current 10-digit number to make it easier for teenagers, veterans or anyone experiencing a mental health crisis to seek help," Donnelly said in a statement.
The Utah Department of Human Services, University Neuropsychiatric Institute at the University of Utah and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention all endorsed the bill when it was first introduced in May.
Doug Thomas, director of the Utah Department of Human Services, enthusiastically praised the bill's passage Thursday.
"Senator Hatch understands the need for a three-digit national number for suicide prevention that will link people in crisis to lifesaving support and resources. … Treatment works, prevention is effective and a national three-deigit suicide prevent number is a clear message to everyone where to go to get the help and support needed to avert a tragedy," Thomas said in a statement to the Deseret News.
Thomas also touched on the importance of suicide prevention hotlines, saying that "putting time, space and distance between a person with a plan and the means to carry out the plan helps save lives."
"Most people who are contemplating suicide do not actually want to die, but are looking for a way to relieve extreme pain," he said. "Suicide is not the answer. There is help available."
Hatch toured the institute in June to see the work being done by people in its CrisisLine center. He told the Deseret News at the time that a three-digit suicide hotline number "that is very easy to remember and is very easy to dial is crucial," especially because a person in crisis is unlikely to be thinking clearly.
Tori Yeates, supervisor of the institute's Crisis Services, told the Deseret News the bill's "biggest benefit would be access." She agreed that "if somebody's in crisis, it's really hard to remember a long number."
For a person considering suicide, talking over the phone with a trained crisis worker is "the best way to get them immediate help," Yeates said.
"Just because they're having suicidal thoughts doesn't necessarily mean that they need to be seen in an emergency room or that they even need to be hospitalized," she said.
That way, Yeates added, the prospect of a large medical bill doesn't become a barrier to those who simply need someone to talk to.
The CrisisLine center receives an average of 150 calls per day, according to Yeates, but crisis workers refer people to an emergency room only once or twice per week and only request that police perform a welfare check once or twice per month.14 comments on this story
The CrisisLine center can be reached by calling 801-587-3000. The national suicide crisis hotline number, which has come under scrutiny for not begin easy enough to remember, is 800-273-TALK.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 630 Utahns died from suicide in 2015, accounting for the fifth-highest suicide rate in the country. According to the Utah Department of Health, the state's teen suicide rate has nearly tripled since 2007 and has been the leading cause of death for Utahns between the ages of 10 and 17 since 2013.