U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) wants federal assistance in addressing America's climbing suicide toll, which claimed more than 40,000 lives last year.
Oregon's suicide rate is regularly above the national average. After consulting with Dwight Holton, the CEO of Lines for Life, a Portland nonprofit that works on suicide prevention, Wyden today approached the Federal Communications Commission with an ask: Let's treat suicide like the public health emergency it clearly is.
"I believe that a 3-digit code number, similar to 9-1-1 for emergencies, would most easily come to mind for those in need of intervention services," Wyden wrote. "A new designated 3 digit code, such as 6-1-1, which has been recommended by my friends from Oregon Lines for Life, would be best because we need a dedicated hotline for only this issue."
Wyden's letter comes in the wake of the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act, which Congress passed this summer.
In an email, Holton told WW that the federal Veterans' Administration's development of a centralized, single number for veterans has been effective.
"The VA experience with the Veterans Crisis Line gives us the roadmap: after years of being behind on volume and huge wait times and abandonment rates, the VA put some money into the project and they've improved dramatically," Holton says. "The VCL now spends about $90-100 million to answer 700,000 to 800,000 calls; the broader Lifeline answers about 1.3 million calls with just $8 to $10 million in federal funding."
Holton says the creation of such a resource would be a step in the right direction towards parity in the way Americans treat mental and physical health.
"We all know that for fire, or rescue, or physical injury, we call 911," Holton said in a statement. "Well, we need a 911 for the brain—and that's what a three-digit lifeline will deliver."