U.S. House of Representatives Passes Senator Gardner’s 9-8-8 Suicide Hotline Bill

Bipartisan bill designates 9-8-8 as the suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline, now heads to President’s desk

Washington, D.C. – On September 1st, the U.S. House of Representatives passed S. 2661, the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which was introduced by U.S. Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Jack Reed (D-RI). This bipartisan legislation designates 9-8-8 as the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline, and companion legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Representatives Chris Stewart (R-UT) and Seth Moulton (D-MA).

“With approval from the House of Representatives today, our bipartisan bill to create a three-digit suicide hotline and make it easier for Americans dealing with a mental health crisis to receive life-saving support is now another step closer to becoming reality,” said Senator Gardner. “I’ve held countless meetings and roundtables with families, students, mental health care professionals, law enforcement officials, and others to address our state’s mental health needs. The tragic fact is we lose a Coloradan to death by suicide every seven hours, and we must keep fighting to provide mental health support to Coloradans in need, particularly in this time of crisis. I applaud the House for approving this bipartisan, commonsense legislation, and I look forward to the President signing it into law in order to save lives.”

The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, S. 2661, designates 9-8-8 as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which would include the Veterans Crisis Line for veteran-specific mental health support. The current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Veterans Crisis Line is 10-digits long, which is a barrier to Americans in crisis seeking support. The bill includes a report to improve support services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) youth and other high-risk populations. Until the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) finalizes the technical implementation of 9-8-8 as the nationwide number, anyone seeking help should still call 1-800-273-8255.

Calls to the mental health crisis line in Colorado have spiked 48 percent due in part to COVID-19. Roughly 60 percent of calls to the crisis line are related to the ongoing pandemic.

Background: 

  • Gardner and Baldwin sent a letter to House leadership in July 2020 calling the U.S. House of Representatives to pass S. 2661 without delay and wrote, “As our country is facing an unprecedented challenge in responding to COVID-19, this three-digit hotline would play a critical role in saving the lives of many vulnerable Americans who are facing mental health emergencies during this period of isolation and uncertainty.”
  • In July 2020, 48 mental health groups sent a letter to House leadership calling for swift passage of S. 2661 and wrote, “This bicameral, bipartisan legislation is urgently needed and, under your leadership, could save lives.”
  • Every single commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) endorsed S. 2661 at a hearing held by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in June 2020.
  • On May 13, the Senate unanimously passed Gardner’s National Suicide Hotline Designation Act.
  • In April 2020, Gardner led a bipartisan, bicameral call to include the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act in the next COVID-19 relief package.
  • Gardner sent a bipartisan letter to Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Schumer requesting $80 million to support critical suicide prevention activities amid the public health crisis that is upending the social and financial stability of countless Americans.
  • In February 2020, Gardner held a behavioral health roundtable at the Cherry Creek Innovation Campus (CCIC) to discuss Colorado’s mental health needs and his work across the aisle to increase mental health support in Colorado.
  • Gardner invited mental health advocate and 2018 Air Force Spouse of the Year Kristen Christy from Colorado Springs to be his guest at the President’s annual State of the Union Address and highlighted the need for more mental health support in Colorado.
  • In December 2019, the FCC approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to designate 9-8-8 as the three-digit number for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline.
  • The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation unanimously passed Senator Gardner’s bipartisan bill to designate 9-8-8 as the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline in December 2019.
  • At a press conference in November with Senator Gardner, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced the FCC would consider establishing 9-8-8 as the national suicide prevention hotline at their meeting on December 12, 2019.
  • Nearly 50 mental health organizations and veterans support organizations announced their support and urged Congress to pass the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act.
  • In November 2019, Gardner met with Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners in Denver to discuss his bipartisan push to establish the three-digit hotline, which the organization said “will definitely be easier to remember and will result in significant utilization for a whole continuum of questions and needs related to behavioral health.”
  • In October 2019, Senators Gardner, Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced S. 2661, the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which designates 9-8-8 for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline and ensures states have the flexibility to strengthen local crisis call centers. The bill ensures states are able to collect fees for the line, similar to the way they do for the 911 emergency line, and requires reports to Congress to help ensure effectiveness and operability of the line.
  • During his annual Colorado Farm Tour, Gardner held a roundtable in Julesburg regarding rural healthcare and mental health needs in rural areas in August 2019.
  • In August 2019, the FCC released their report, which found that a national three-digit line would improve suicide prevention and recommended a simple number that Americans could dial in times of crisis: 9-8-8.
  • In July 2019, Gardner participated in the Voices for Awareness event at Colorado Mesa University about the need to destigmatize mental health support and suicide prevention services.
  • In April 2019, Gardner held a roundtable in Mesa County focused on teen suicide rates in Colorado and what the federal government can do to support students.
  • In 2018, Gardner voted for the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act, which directed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to evaluate using a three-digit dialing code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Cory Gardner is a member of the U.S. Senate serving Colorado. He sits on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, the Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy.

By Brian Allmer - The BARN

Brian Allmer & the BARN are members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB), the Colorado FFA Foundation, the Colorado 4H Foundation, the Colorado Farm Show Marketing Committee, 1867 Club Board Member, Denver Ag & Livestock Club Member, the Weld County Fair Board, the Briggsdale FFA Advisory Council, Briggsdale 4H Club Beef Leader & Founder / Coordinator of the Briggsdale Classic Open Jackpot Show.