Max Denning

Individuals in crisis and seeking help through the National Suicide Prevention Hotline may soon be able to call a much shorter, easier to remember number.

President Donald Trump signed HR 2345, the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act, into law on Aug. 14. The law calls on the Federal Communications Commission to coordinate with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to study the feasibility of establishing a three-digit calling code for national suicide prevention.

Rep. Greg Walden (R–Hood River) co-sponsored the bill, which originated in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which he also chairs. In a press release Sept. 5, Walden noted suicide as the second-leading cause of death for Oregonians aged 15 to 34 and the eighth leading cause of death among all Oregonians.

“This is a tragic result of mental health being pushed to the shadows of shame and stigma for decades,” Walden said in the press release.

While the law does not authorize any additional funds to do so, the bill aims to be the beginning of establishing a number that those in crisis can call.

“The National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act takes steps to establish a nationwide three-digit suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline, making the number as intuitive as dialing 911,” Walden said in the press release. “I have met with suicide prevention advocates in Oregon about this bill’s potential to save lives, and was proud to support this important change.”

Currently, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is a 1-800 number encompassing a network of 161 crisis centers that together provide a 24/7 hotline. The hotline was founded in 2004 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the network of crisis centers is led by the Mental Health Association of New York City.

The study to be conducted by the FCC, SAMHSA and Veterans Affairs will also analyze the effectiveness of the current suicide prevention hotline, including how well it addresses the needs of veterans.

See more in Friday's edition of The Observer.