The National Suicide Hotline Needs a Fix — And Trump Agrees

Aug 22, 2018, 11:46 PM | Updated: Jun 7, 2022, 4:01 pm

(CNN) — Drowned out in the recent wall-to-wall coverage of political drama was a substantive development involving a lifeline that could help millions of people by preventing suicides and improving mental health treatment.

President Donald Trump signed the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act last week, legislation that requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to conduct a study to assess the feasibility of implementing a three-digit dialing code for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline system.

It also requires them to evaluate the effectiveness of the current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, including an assessment of resources for military veterans, who often face PTSD and other mental illnesses after combat.

Right now, the lifeline’s phone number is hard to remember (1-800-273-TALK) and moving to an easily-remembered code, akin to 911, could mean life or death for millions. The National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act specifies that the FCC must submit a report to Congress with a suggested dialing code and a cost-benefit analysis of switching to a three-digit number. I hope that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai recognizes the importance of a timely and robust analysis; his office has not released a statement to date on the new law. The FCC has one year to submit a report based on the study’s findings.

The need for such legislation is particularly apparent in the wake of the recent suicides of CNN’s Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade, after which the US suicide prevention’s hotline saw a 25% spike in calls, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Suicide prevention is also particularly important to my home state of Utah, as the lead Republican sponsors of the law are Senator Orrin Hatch and Representative Chris Stewart. In 2014, Utah had the highest rate of mental illness (recent research shows this may be due in part to high altitudes), and many rural Western states have higher rates of suicide than Eastern, more urban states.

Governing magazine reports “it’s rural America that is sustaining the largest increases. The aggregate suicide rate for counties outside of metropolitan areas climbed about 14% over the five-year period ending in 2016. By comparison, the rate within metro areas also increased — but only by 8%. The largest metro areas, in particular, experienced relatively small increases compared to everywhere else.”

Tragically, I’ve had family and friends who committed suicide. I have struggled with depression due to family estrangement (I wrote about my struggle in The Washington Post), and thankfully was able to get the medical attention I needed to prevent a deeper unraveling.

Many, however, are not as fortunate. America’s suicide rates have risen nearly 30% since 1999, with the Center For Disease Control and Prevention reporting nearly 45,000 people committing suicide in the United States in 2016. What’s more, in 54% of suicide cases in 27 states in 2015, the deceased did not have a known mental health condition.

Many of these individuals suffer in silence. Meanwhile, our social media culture promulgates a glossy image of impossible perfection to which we are all supposed to aspire, and which may contribute to poor mental health and suicide for the fragile among us who strive to attain it. Unsurprisingly, cyberbullying and online gossip fuel a high-octane cycle of negative feedback that may be partly responsible for the spike in American suicides. And given the ever-increasing cyber-centric nature of the world, these sad statistics aren’t likely to taper off.

“The immediacy of social media makes it harder to process emotions and situations at a normal pace,” said Chloe Carmichael, a clinical physiologist from Manhattan. “Our executive (brain) lobe is inundated with social feedback that would normally take days or weeks to accrue in a normal ‘rumor mill’ situation. Needless to say, this literally overwhelms the emotional system because it’s more than we’re equipped to process in such a short period of time.”

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the nation’s largest suicide prevention organization, understandably praised the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act as a step to help fight these troubling trends.

“We applaud the President for signing this important legislation into law,” said John Madigan, senior vice president of public policy at AFSP. “This new law will ultimately make it easier for Americans to access free and confidential emotional support if they are in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. … The lives of millions of Americans depend on the lifesaving services provided by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.”

With bipartisan support for the legislation, led by Democratic sponsors Senator Joe Donnelly from Indiana and Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson from Texas, policymakers have shown that saving lives is one issue around which they can come together in this age of polarization.

™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories


Lindsay Lohan thinks you should try Pilk.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner, CNN Business

Pepsi wants you to drink soda mixed with milk this holiday season

Pepsi launched a campaign Thursday encouraging customers to try the combination of milk and pepsi for a holiday concoction.
1 day ago
Mauna Loa spewing lava on Tuesday. (Courtesy: Paradise Helicopters via )...
Holly Yan and Aya Elamroussi, CNN

Lava spilling toward key Hawaiian highway, but the gov says it’s safe to visit the Big Island

The world's largest active volcano is shooting fountains of lava more than 100 feet high and sending a river of molten rock down toward the main highway of Hawaii's Big Island.
1 day ago
A Mcdonalds restaurant with big golden arches in Logan, Utah....
Danielle Wiener-Bronner, CNN Business

This is what McDonald’s drive-thru of the future could look like

McDonald's is hoping a drive-thru lane with a food conveyor belt, a pickup room for delivery workers and a shelf where people can grab their orders will make life easier for customers on the go.
1 day ago
Jason David Frank's cause of death is revealed by his wife. Jason David Frank is pictured here in N...
Lisa Respers France, CNN

Jason David Frank’s cause of death revealed by his wife

Jason David Frank's wife has confirmed that the "Power Rangers" star's death was a result of suicide.
1 day ago
A general view of the city skyline is seen with the lights switched on just before the Earth Hour e...
Lilit Marcus, CNN

These are the world’s most expensive cities to live in 2022

Here are this year's top 10 most expensive cities to live in around the world, according to the Worldwide Cost of Living Index released by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
1 day ago
The four escapee cubs celebrated their first birthday this summer along with sibling Ayanna who sta...
Hafsa Khalil, CNN

New footage reveals how 5 lions escaped their Sydney zoo enclosure

The Great Escape always brings prisoner-of-war Steve McQueen to mind, but perhaps the real masters of breaking out are five lions who absconded from their enclosure at a Sydney zoo last month.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 reasons you may want to consider apartment life over owning a home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Take this quiz before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t let a ransomware attack get you down | Protect your workplace today with cyber insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
The National Suicide Hotline Needs a Fix — And Trump Agrees