Editorial: The Nation Needs 3-Digit Suicide Hotline Number
Earlier this month, President Donald Trump signed the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018 into law. The legislation requires the Federal Communications Commission and Departments of Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs to conduct a study to assess the feasibility of establishing a three-digit number to a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline system — like 911, the number everyone knows to dial for emergencies.
According to the law, a report must be submitted to Congress with a suggested dialing code and a cost-benefit analysis of switching to a three-digit number within one year. Let’s hope they can get the work done sooner.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The lifeline’s current phone number is hard to remember (1-800-273-TALK) and moving to an easily remembered three-digit number could mean life or death for thousands of people at risk for suicide.
Most people who have suicidal feelings do not really want to die, according to John Draper, director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Rather, he says, they want to end the unbearable pain they are feeling. “It’s important to help people because those thoughts, we know from many different studies, are rarely persistent. It’s often a temporary condition,” Draper says.
Draper says that the hotline has consistent success with reducing a caller’s distress and suicidal feelings.
Talking helps. In fact, one of the simplest things a friend or family member can do for someone struggling with sadness and depression is to ask if they are having suicidal thoughts. Research shows that bringing up the word doesn’t make someone suicidal; talking about suicidal feelings with someone who cares can help people see another way through to solving their problems.
In Michigan, the growth in suicide deaths is more rapid than the national average. The Centers for Disease Control reports suicide deaths increased nearly 33 percent in Michigan since 1999 to 13.3 deaths per 1,000 people in 2016. It is the 10th leading cause of death in the state, behind the flu/pneumonia and kidney disease.
All too many of us have known the pain of losing loved ones to suicide. Anything that can be done to make help easier for people at risk to obtain — such as creating a national three-digit suicide hotline number — should be done as quickly as possible.