Chris Stewart bill to create 988 suicide hotline heads to White House

(File photo | House Television via AP) Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, speaks in the House of Representatives on Dec. 18, 2019. Stewart sponsored legislation creating a national suicide hotline, 988, that passed the House and now heads to the president.

The nation soon should have a new three-digit suicide prevention hotline — 988 — similar to dialing 911 for emergencies.

On a voice vote, the U.S. House give final passage Monday to the Senate version of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, pushed the identical House version of the bill. The legislation now goes to President Donald Trump for his consideration.

“This easy-to-remember hotline will save lives,” Stewart said, after working four years to help create it.

“If you are in the middle of a mental health crisis,” he told the House, “you need to know who to call. The problem is no one knows the number. The second problem is the number is different. If you are calling in Salt Lake City, it is a different number than if you are calling in New York.”

He said that someone in America takes their own life every 11 minutes. When Stewart asks town halls or other meetings how many have lost a friend or family member to suicide, he said, “almost every hand goes up.”

The bill does something about it, he said.

“Dialing 988 is going to get you help,” he said. “It’s going to immediately give you someone to talk with, and in special cases when intervention is necessary, give you that resource as well.”

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention also issued a statement of praise for the bill.

“The historic passage of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act will bring our national crisis response system into the 21st century,” it said. “The designation of the 9-8-8 hotline number will make life-saving suicide prevention resources more accessible for people in emotional distress.”

The House on Monday also passed by voice vote Stewart’s separate Suicide Prevention Act, which now goes to the Senate for consideration.

It aims to provide more resources to combat suicide, including better federal and state data collection about suicide to help recognize new trends and intervene.

It would also funds grants for suicide prevention in hospital emergency departments. About a third of people without a history of mental health or substance abuse who die by suicide visit an emergency room within a year of their death, and Stewart seeks funding aimed at improving their ability to help people at risk of suicide.

Editor’s note • If you or people you know are at risk of self-harm, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline currently provides 24-hour support at 1-800-273-8255.