On October 17, Congress unanimously approved and the president signed the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020. This law, introduced by Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) in October of 2019 and met with widespread bipartisan support, allows people in the United States to dial 988 and be connected with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration or the Veterans Crisis Line within the Department of Veterans Affairs. The transition from the existing 10-digit phone number to the 3-digit option must be completed by October 2022 under the law.
The Congressional findings state that the necessity of the law derived from data showing “129 suicides per day in the United States,” LGBTQ youth “are more than 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide than their peers,” “American Indian and Alaska Natives have … a suicide rate over 3.5 times higher than the racial or ethnic group with the lowest rate” and “the suicide death rate in rural counties … is significantly greater than the national average.” Given the aforementioned data, the findings concluded that “it is essential that people in the United States have access a 3-digit national suicide hotline across all geographic locations” that is “both familiar and recognizable to all people in the United States.”
The law also provides funding for researching the inclusion of a dispatchable location with every call to 988. This dispatchable location feature would ideally release “the street address of the calling party and additional information such as room number, floor number or similar information necessary to adequately identify the location of the calling party.” Finally, the law mandates that a strategy be developed, in conjunction with the National Institute of Mental Health, to “offer, support or provide technical assistance to training programs for National Suicide Prevention Lifeline counselors to increase competency in serving high-risk populations” and to implement mechanisms “to allow National Suicide Prevention Lifeline callers who are LGBTQ youth, minorities, rural individuals or members of other high-risk populations to access specialized services.” Both the research on the dispatchable location feature and the strategy for providing specialized services to high-risk populations calling 988 is due no later than April 2021.