Moulton, Stewart Introduce Bill to Designate “9-8-8” for Suicide Hotline Dialing Code

HASC Nuclear Deterrence HearingWASHINGTON– Congressman Seth Moulton (D-MA) joined Congressman Chris Stewart (R-UT) to introduce The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act. The bill, which was also cosponsored by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), and Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT), designates “9-8-8” as the universal telephone number for the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline system, which currently operates through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Veteran’s Crisis Line. 

“This bill will save lives. When your house is on fire, you don’t have time to look up the fire department’s phone number—that’s why we have 9-1-1. In the same way, you should know what number to dial when a friend, a loved one, or you yourself are experiencing a mental health crisis,” Moulton said. “This is a major milestone on the road to where mental healthcare in America is just part of healthcare, period. It’s one part of ending the stigma around mental health and making Americans healthier and stronger.” 

Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) said: “I am truly honored to lead on this bill to get a three-digit, easy-to-remember, dialing code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Suicide hits close to home with an average of two Utahns taking their life every day. This dialing code is an essential step in providing critical resources to those in emotional distress.”

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said: “As a former chief psychiatric nurse, I have spent my career advocating for more accessible mental health resources in our communities. In my home state of Texas, thousands of lives are tragically lost to suicide every year – averaging a life lost every two hours. This bipartisan effort to designate a three-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will simplify access to these resources for our constituents in their times of need,”

Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) said: “Our nation faces an epidemic of suicide, and Montanans tragically are all too familiar with it. This bipartisan bill provides an essential resource for anyone facing a mental health crisis and helps our communities grow healthier and stronger.”

The bill Moulton and Stewart introduced today builds upon the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act. Rep. Stewart, an Air Force veteran, introduced that bill, which was passed and signed into law, last year. It called for a study to determine the best three-digit dialing code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. 

The FCC released the study last week recommending “9-8-8” as the best three-digit dialing code for the lifeline.

Today’s bill, The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, assigns the FCC’s recommended number as the easy three-digit dialing code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

This legislation authorizes states to collect a fee limited to supporting local crisis call centers that are affiliated within the national network or enhancements of such services. This allows states to fund the suicide hotline services similar to that of existing emergency services.

In addition, this legislation sets a deadline of one year for the FCC to complete the nationwide upgrade of the legacy switches to support 9-8-8. It also requests a report from the FCC to determine the feasibility of providing an automatic dispatchable location for 9-8-8 calls.

In June, Moulton spoke publicly for the first time about managing Post Traumatic Stress in an effort to start a national conversation about mental health care. At the time, he proposed creating a three-digit hotline, and he partnered with Rep. Stewart on today’s bill to deliver on that promise. 

Moulton also called for making mental health check-ups a requirement for members of the Armed Forces. He successfully added an amendment to the House’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act that would require every service member who saw combat to get a mental health checkup within 14 days of leaving the battlefield, and an annual mental health checkup for every member of the Armed Forces. The goal is to create a culture where mental health check ups are as routine as going to the doctor’s office for an annual checkup, or visiting a dentist for a teeth cleaning. Members of the House and Senate will meet in conference to negotiate a final NDAA next month.

The following organizations have also endorsed the legislation: American Association of Suicidology, Association for Behavioral Health & Wellness, Behavioral Health Link, Behavioral Health Response, Centerstone, Connections Health Solutions, The Jason Foundation, Kevin & Margaret Hines Foundation, National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, The National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors, The National Association for Rural Mental Health, Now Matters Now, InSight Telepsychiatry, and RI International.