Brief

Baldwin’s suicide prevention crisis hotline becomes law

By: - October 20, 2020 3:32 pm
Man sitting with back against blank wall

‘Depression’ by aurumarcus, royalty-free

After more than a year of work to create a nationwide three-digit suicide prevention crisis hotline, Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s bipartisan bill was signed into law on Saturday. 

The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act sets aside 9-8-8 as the number to call for anyone seeking emergency mental-health help and the law requires that it be up and running approximately a year from its enactment.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin speaking at a podium
Sen. Tammy Baldwin photo by ljlphoto.com
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Baldwin has pursued the hotline because suicide has become one of the leading causes of death for Americans, taking 45,000 lives each years.

In Oct. 2019 Baldwin introduced the bill, which, in addition to designating the line for mental health crises, also allows states to collect a fee for the line, in a way similar to how states currently collect fees for the 911 emergency line. The Senate unanimously passed the bill in May, followed by the House passage last month.

The measure also makes history as the first explicitly LGBTQ-inclusive bill ever to pass Congress unanimously. In addition to LGBTQ youth, the bill specifies training and outreach for serving Native Americans, rural residents and others at greater risk of suicide.

Baldwin wanted to make certain the bill also had a special line designated for mental health support specific to veterans, so after dialing 9-8-8 a veteran will be able to press 1 to be routed to the Veterans Crisis Line. 

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs 2019 annual report, 45,390 American adults died from suicide in 2017, including 6,139 U.S. veterans. According to Baldwin’s office, in Wisconsin one out of every five people who died by suicide was a veteran.

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“We need to do everything we can to prevent suicide and that means improving the tools we have to help people who are suffering from depression or other mental health concerns,” Baldwin said. “I’m very proud our bipartisan legislation has finally been signed into law, so we can make it as quick and easy as possible for Americans in crisis to get the help and support they need through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Veterans Crisis Line.”

In July 2020, 48 mental health groups sent a letter to House leadership that called for passing the legislation as quickly as possible calling it urgent and saying that passage “could save lives.”

She also urged the Federal Communications Commission “to move expeditiously to implement this change and get 9-8-8 up and running.” 

Until the three-digit line is available — which may take a year for technical implementation — anyone in need of mental-health support should still call 1-800-273-8255.

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Melanie Conklin
Melanie Conklin

Melanie Conklin is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications. She is excited to be back at the craft of journalism as Deputy Editor of the Wisconsin Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.

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