SALT LAKE CITY — A bill two Utah Republicans pushed to create a three-digit telephone number — similar to 911 — for the national suicide prevention hotline passed the U.S. House on Monday.
Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Chris Stewart were among lawmakers who introduced the bipartisan legislation in May 2017. It passed the Senate last November and sailed through the House on Monday, 379-1.
"There are many tools available for people who are struggling with mental illness or thoughts of suicide, but tragically some of these resources are too difficult to find in a time of urgent need," Stewart said on the House floor.
The national suicide prevention hotline number — 800-273-TALK — is cumbersome and hard to remember, he said, adding most people have never heard of it.
Since handbag designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain took their own lives earlier this year, calls to the national hotline jumped 25 percent, he said.
"While the hotline number has increased access, I know we can do better and that's the purpose of this bill," Stewart said.
The bill aims to reform the suicide prevention lifeline system and Veterans Crisis Line by requiring the Federal Communications Commission — working with the Department of Health and Human Services, and Department of Veterans Affairs — to study the system and make recommendations to Congress on how to improve it.
Hatch said making the hotline more user-friendly would help save thousands of lives.13 comments on this story
“Every minute we wait, we leave helpless hundreds of Americans who are struggling with suicidal thoughts. There are literally lives on the line here, and leaving them on hold is not an option," he said in a statement.
Stewart said someone commits suicide every nine minutes in the U.S., and for every suicide-related death, there are 25 attempts.
"These are truly heartbreaking statistics and sadly they hit close to home. Utah ranks fifth for the highest suicide deaths in the U.S." he said.
The congressman said he knows the bill is not a panacea but an important step to help avoid tragedy.
Stewart said he looks forward to President Donald Trump quickly signing the bill into law.