Stewart’s national 3-digit suicide lifeline bill passes House committee

U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart speaks in St. George, Utah, March 27, 2018 | File photo by Spencer Ricks, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The implementation of a national three-digit suicide prevention hotline similar to 911 moved forward with a House committee’s unanimous passage of Rep. Chris Stewart’s National Suicide Hotline Designation Act earlier this week.

A man uses a cell phone in New Orleans, Aug. 11, 2019. The Federal Communications Commission is setting up a new three-digit number to reach a suicide prevention hotline. Once it’s implemented, people will just need to dial 988 to seek help, similar to calling 911 for emergencies or 311 for city services. | Associated Press photo by Jenny Kane, St. George News

Stewart’s office announced Wednesday that his National Suicide Hotline Designation Act and Suicide Prevention Act both unanimously passed the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and now moves to the House floor for consideration.

“We are one step closer to passage of these life-saving bills,” Steward said in a statement. “These two bills together give American families and healthcare professionals the tools necessary to help combat suicide. Suicide prevention is something that we can all get behind and I urge my colleagues to take immediate action.”

Stewart introduced the suicide hotline bill, which would put the Federal Communications Commission-recommended 9-8-8 number into use, last August. Stewart has previously said a three-digit number will be easier for someone in crisis to remember rather than the clunky 10-digit one currently in use.

“I am truly honored to lead on the Utah-based initiative to get a three-digit, easy-to-remember, dialing code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline,” Stewart said at the time. “Suicide hits close to home with an average of two Utahns taking their life every day. This dialing code is an essential step in providing critical resources to those in emotional distress.”

Stock image | Photo by AntonioGuillem/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

Utah currently ranks fifth in the nation for deaths by suicide with an average of 647 deaths per year, according to the Utah Department of Health. It was also the leading cause of death for Utahns between 10 and 17 years old in 2018.

In addition to creating the 9-8-8 hotline, Stewart’s bill authorizes states to collect a fee limited to supporting local crisis call centers that are affiliated within the national network or enhancements of such services. This allows states to fund the suicide hotline services similar to that of existing emergency services.

The legislation sets a deadline of one year for the FCC to complete the nationwide upgrade of legacy switches to support 9-8-8. It also requests a report from the FCC to determine the feasibility of providing an automatic dispatchable location for 9-8-8 calls.

Congressman Chris Stewart, R-Utah, speaking to constituents at a town hall meeting in Hurricane, Utah, Aug. 5, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The Suicide Prevention Act authorizes funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to partner with state and local health departments to improve surveillance of suicide attempts and other incidences of self-harm.

Current data collection efforts regarding suicide are often years after the fact, which limits the ability of state and local health departments, as well as community organizations, to recognize trends early and intervene. This bill would enhance data collection and sharing, as appropriate, in real-time, to help save lives.

“I’ve met with family and friends of those who have taken their own life,” Stewart said earlier this year. “I’ve heard their stories and I’m responding to their pleas for help. This bill is a part of my longstanding commitment to reverse this troubling trend.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!