04.22.20

Gardner, Merkley, Moran, Reed Make Bipartisan Push to Increase Critical Funds for Suicide Prevention Amid Pandemic

Coronavirus crisis poses serious test to Americans’ emotional and mental resiliency

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Jack Reed (D-RI), and 10 additional U.S. Senators are making a push to provide the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) with $80 million to support critical suicide prevention activities amid a public health crisis that is upending the social and financial stability of countless Americans. 

Their letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer comes as Congress starts discussing the next coronavirus relief legislation.

“The global pandemic has drastically disrupted the life of every American. As a result, millions of individuals are experiencing heightened levels of fear, anxiety, social isolation, stress, and more. These factors, when felt concurrently, effect a person’s mental health and often lead to increased episodes of suicidal ideation,” the senators wrote. “The emotional and mental resiliency of our nation is being tested. Americans are looking to Congress to invest in programs that offer a lifeline of support when a person has nowhere else to turn.”

In 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34—with LGBTQ youth at particular risk. Individualized interventions provided by crisis hotlines and mobile response teams can help reduce risk factors that culminate in suicide attempts.

Specifically, the senators’ bipartisan recommendation is that Congress allocate $50 million to respond to current and future crisis call volume, and an additional $30 million to expand crisis chat capacity, including an effort to increase accessibility by shortening the Lifeline’s phone number from ten digits to three.

Senators Gardner, Merkley, Moran, and Reed were joined in sending the letter by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Angus King (I-ME), Robert Casey (D-PA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

The full text of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer,

Thank you for your bipartisan response to the health and economic effects of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States. As you prepare for a fourth relief package, we respectfully request $80 million for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) to support critical suicide prevention activities and assist with the transition to an operational three-digit code for the NSPL.

The global pandemic has drastically disrupted the life of every American. As a result, millions of individuals are experiencing heightened levels of fear, anxiety, social isolation, stress, and more. These factors, when felt concurrently, effect a person’s mental health and often lead to increased episodes of suicidal ideation. The emotional and mental resiliency of our nation is being tested. Americans are looking to Congress to invest in programs that offer a lifeline of support when a person has nowhere else to turn.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, one in five U.S. adults reported they experience some level of mental illness. Moreover, in 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34. LGBTQ youth are at particular risk; they are more than four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. An unacceptable average of 132 Americans died each day by suicide last year. The social and economic turmoil caused by COVID-19 will only amplify the factors that lead to mental health challenges and suicide, and our nation will see these alarming statistics rise if we fail to adequately respond in time.

Suicide prevention efforts, such as crisis hotlines and mobile response teams, reduce risk factors that culminate in severe mental health challenges and suicide attempts by providing individualized interventions. Lives are saved when people are connected to the resources they need to improve their mental well-being in a timely and empathetic manner.

In order to fully support the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to meet the current and future crisis call volume and provide additional resources for states to provide comprehensive crisis response services, we recommend $80 million, which would accommodate $50 million to respond to crisis call volume and $30 million to build out crisis chat capacity. This support is especially important as there is ongoing work to transition the NSPL from ten digits to three digits to increase access to services. 

We thank you for your support of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and respectfully request your continued support to bring hope and health to Americans who struggle with mental health challenges and suicidal ideation, especially during the ongoing public health pandemic.

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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.