The U.S. House of Representatives Monday unanimously approved the establishment of a three-digit number, 988, for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, making it much easier to dial than the current 10-digit one, and the legislation includes several provisions specific to LGBTQ+ people.
The Senate had approved the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act in May, and the House action makes it the first LGBTQ+-inclusive measure to pass both houses of Congress by a unanimous vote, according to the Trevor Project, which provides suicide prevention and crisis intervention services for LGBTQ+ young people.
The LGBTQ+ provisions include requirements for LGBTQ+ cultural competency training for all lifeline counselors and the establishment of an integrated voice response option for LGBTQ+ youth and other high-risk populations to reach specialized care.
The Federal Communications Commission formally approved a two-year phase-in plan for the number July 16. The legislation passed by Congress was necessary to establish a funding mechanism for the lifeline and to approve the provisions for LGBTQ+ people and other specific populations.
Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, introduced the bill in the Senate, with one Republican, Jerry Moran of Kansas, and two Democrats, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Jack Reed of Rhode Island, as lead cosponsors. Reps. Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican, and Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat, carried the legislation in the House.
“This passage is a historic victory, as this is the first explicitly LGBTQ-inclusive bill to pass unanimously in history — and 988 will undoubtedly save countless lives,” Sam Brinton, vice president of advocacy and government affairs for the Trevor Project, said in a press release. “According to the Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 40 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past 12 months, with more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth having seriously considered it. This vital legislation will require the Lifeline to provide specialized services for LGBTQ youth and other high-risk groups, and make it so much easier for millions of Americans to find support in moments of crisis. We express our sincere gratitude to Congressmen Moulton and Stewart for their leadership in championing the expansion of suicide prevention resources.”
The House Monday also OK’d four other suicide prevention bills, all by unanimous voice vote, that now go to the Senate. These are Helping Emergency Responders Overcome Act of 2019, which would authorize the collection of data on suicide incidence among first responders and fund services to address mental health issues among this population; the Suicide Prevention Lifeline Improvement Act of 2019, which increases the funding for the lifeline; the Campaign to Prevent Suicide Act, providing for a national media campaign to advertise the new 988 number; and the Suicide Prevention Act, establishing two grant programs to prevent self-harm and suicide.
“Taken together, this represents a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention and awareness, and we are proud that the House voted overwhelmingly today to pass such important legislation during National Suicide Prevention Month,” said a statement issued by House Committee and Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr., Health Subcommittee Chairwoman Anna G. Eshoo, and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle.
While the transition to the new number takes place, the FCC advises Americans who need help to continue to contact the Lifeline by calling (800) 273-8255 ( 273-TALK) and through online chats.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of approximately 170 crisis centers. The centers are supported by local and state, public and private sources as well as with congressional appropriations through the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at (877) 565-8860. LGBTQ+ youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at (866) 488-7386. You can also access chat services at TheTrevorProject.org/Help or text START to 678678. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 can be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities.