ST. GEORGE – A bill aiming to create a national three-digit suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline passed the U.S. House of Representatives Monday and drew praise from Utah’s Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Chris Stewart who introduced the measure last year.
Called the National Suicide Prevention Hotline Improvement Act, the legislation will streamline access to resources for those who need it, Stewart said on the House floor Monday. The bill passed with a vote of 379-1.
There are numerous resources available for mental health and suicide prevention, yet they are not always as easy to access in a time of need as they could otherwise be, Stewart said. The current hotline number can also be cumbersome and hard to remember. Those issues can be fixed by providing a consolidated point of access with a number that’s easy to remember, similar to 911, he said.
“I believe that by making the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline system more user-friendly and accessible, we can save thousands of lives by helping people find the help they need when they need it most,” Hatch said in a statement after the House passed the legislation. “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. I’m pleased that the House has at long last taken action to move this legislation.”
Hatch’s office said he has been working with the House to pass the legislation since the Senate version passed last November.
The improved suicide hotline will connect callers directly to trained call center crisis workers, according Hatch’s office.
Both Hatch and Stewart have mentioned Utah’s own “suicide epidemic.”
Between 1999 and 2016, Utah saw an increase in suicide of 46.5 percent, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. North Dakota had the highest in the nation with a rate of 57.6 percent.
At a rate of 21.8 deaths per 100,000 total population in 2016, Utah had the fifth-highest suicide rate in the United States.
In Southern Utah, the death rate from suicide was 24.9 in the southwest region and 46.4 in the southeast region – the highest reported rate in all of the state’s regional health districts – according to data from 2013-2015 compiled by the Utah Department of Health. In the same period, the city of St. George was slightly above the state average for suicide deaths, while Cedar City fell slightly below.
Stewart’s office released the following statement Monday after the hotline improvement act passed the House.
Every nine minutes someone commits suicide in the US and for every suicide-related death there are twenty-five attempts. These are truly heartbreaking statistics and sadly they hit close to home. Utah ranks fifth for the highest suicide deaths in the US. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline Improvement Act is a bipartisan and commonsense piece of legislation that has the ability to save lives. The current national hotline number is cumbersome and hard to recall. By creating a hotline dialing code that is short and easy to remember, we are taking an important step towards potentially averting tragedy. I thank my colleagues for passing this important legislation, and I look forward to it getting signed into law quickly.
The legislation calls for a study into the effectiveness of the current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Veterans Crisis Line and seeks recommendations for improvements, Stewart said.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the nation’s a largest suicide prevention group, also praised the passing of the legislation Monday. John Madigan, the organization’s senior vice president of public policy, issued the following statement.
We applaud Congress for passing this important legislation that will make it easier for Americans to access free and confidential emotional support if they are in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. We thank Congressman Chris Stewart (R-UT) and Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), along with Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) for their leadership on this legislation. We thank all Congressional members who signed on to sponsor this legislation in both houses and encourage President Trump to sign this into law as soon as possible. The lives of millions of Americans depend on the lifesaving services provided by the National Lifeline.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, help is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK.
St. George News Reporter Joseph Witham contributed to this story.
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