SALT LAKE CITY — Congress could consider creating a national three-digit suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline number similar to 911 as early as next year.
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said Tuesday that the Federal Communications Commission and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration have nearly finished a report on the effectiveness of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Veteran Crisis Line.
President Donald Trump signed a bill last week that Stewart and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, sponsored calling for those agencies to recommend the best national three-digit number for the hotline.
"There are some of those numbers that the telecoms know that they're going to have to give up for this," he said, adding there is resistance to that but that he's confident it can be done.
The FCC, Stewart said, would be involved in an advisory role, "but we can legislatively compel this." He said he expects Congress to consider establishing the three-digit hotline next January or February.
Stewart joined Utah lawmakers, mental health crisis workers and families who have lost loved ones to suicide at the state Capitol on Tuesday to celebrate passage of the bill.
"There were times that I did not believe this day would ever come. It has been a long and hard road. We have lost so many and so much, but we've saved some, too," said Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City.
Thatcher conceived the idea for a Utah three-digit suicide prevention line in 2012 but it never gained traction in the state Legislature. He turned to Stewart and Hatch who didn't hesitate to bring federal legislation.
The "biggest gaping hole" in government providing mental health services is that no one knows where to turn in a moment of crisis and "how is that acceptable?" he said.
"If you get help, you live. It's that simple," he said.
The national suicide prevention hotline number — 1-800-273-TALK — is cumbersome and hard to remember, Stewart said, adding most people have never heard of it.
Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, said he saw a man standing alone on a freeway bridge in the Fort Union area a couple of years ago. Sensing something wasn't right, he said he dialed 911 from his car. He said he later learned three Utah Highway Patrol troopers were honored for rescuing the man.
"Crisis numbers save lives," he said.
Nearly 45,000 Americans died by suicide in 2016, a statistic that includes increases in a majority of states between 1999 and 2016, according to a report the Center for Disease Control and Prevention released in June.
Other states with particularly large increases included Utah, Idaho, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, Vermont and New Hampshire, each with increases of between 43 and nearly 58 percent.
If you or somebody you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, you can call the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or text "HOME" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. Utah youths with smartphones can also download the SafeUT app for around-the-clock counseling and crisis intervention.