From the mailbag: addressing suicide

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

As participants in the decisions made in Congress, Idahoans contact me regularly with valuable input about the issues our country faces. One of the issues Idahoans have periodically contacted me about is efforts to address the high rates of suicide. The following is my response:

I agree we must do more to address the prevalence of suicide across Idaho and the United States and welcome this opportunity to respond.

On July 16, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) designated 988 as a new short, 3-digit dialing code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The FCC’s action follows the 2018 enactment of legislation commissioning the FCC to study the feasibility and usefulness of a three-digit suicide hotline. The FCC reported that moving to an easy-to-remember, three-digit hotline would make it simpler for Americans in crisis to access the help they need and decrease the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health issues.

As part of this effort, on May 13, 2020, the Senate amended and unanimously passed legislation I co-sponsored to require the FCC’s designation of 988 as the universal national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline. In passing the legislation, the Senate recognized, “To prevent future suicides, it is critical to transition the cumbersome, existing 10-digit National Suicide Hotline to a universal, easy-to-remember, 3-digit phone number and connect people in crisis with life-saving resources.” The bill was signed into law on October 17, 2020. Effective July 16, 2022, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline was made available to all landline and cell phone users.

While the initial implementation has been a success, local hotline centers have noted that using a caller’s area code has meant that those out of their home state experiencing crises are not directed to local resources. This is why I am a co-sponsor of S. 3444, the Local 9-8-8 Response Act. This ensures that calls within a particular state are directed to the local 988 response center through geo-fencing, giving people access to the resources closest to them.