05.13.20

Senate Unanimously Passes Gardner’s 9-8-8 Suicide Hotline Bill

Gardner’s bipartisan bill designates 9-8-8 as the suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline

Washington, D.C. – Today the Senate unanimously passed U.S. Senator Cory Gardner’s (R-CO) bipartisan bill to designate 9-8-8 as the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline. Gardner introduced this bipartisan legislation with Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Jack Reed (D-RI). 

9-8-8 hotline

NOTE: Click here or the picture above to download remarks from Senator Gardner.

“Combatting rising suicide rates in Colorado has been a top priority of mine and why I’ve led the charge in the Senate to establish the 9-8-8 national suicide hotline. 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 on average every seven hours, and we must keep fighting to provide mental health support to Coloradans in need, particularly in this time of crisis,” said Senator Gardner. “With the Senate’s approval today, this bipartisan bill to create a three-digit suicide hotline is now one step closer to becoming reality. This three-digit number would make it easier for Americans dealing with a mental health crisis to receive life-saving support. I will continue to push Congress to create this three-digit hotline, because too many people are suffering and don’t know where to turn to for help.” 

Calls to the mental health crisis line in Colorado have spiked 47 percent due in part to COVID-19. Roughly 60 percent of calls to the crisis line are related to the ongoing pandemic.

Gardner’s 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.  

Background:

  • 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.
  • 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 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 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.”
  • Nearly 50 mental health organizations and veterans support organizations announced their support and urged Congress to pass the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act.
  • 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. 
  • 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.
  • 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. 
  • 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 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 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 April 2020, Gardner led a bipartisan, bicameral call to include the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act in the next COVID-19 relief package.

###

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.