House Subcommittee Unanimously Advances Moulton’s 9-8-8 Mental Health Hotline Bill
The bill’s unanimous passage today tees it up for consideration by the full committee, the final step before a House vote.
WASHINGTON — Today, the House Energy & Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee advanced a bill by Representative Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Representative Chris Stewart (R-UT) that would create a three-digit mental health hotline by a unanimous voice vote.
“Americans are dying—literally every day—that we don’t have this number in place, because they can’t get help for mental health care when they need it,” Rep. Moulton said. “I’m excited the subcommittee passed this bill. Let’s finish the job.”
Rep. Chris Stewart said: “The subcommittee markup is an important step in passage of this legislation and making essential mental health resources more accessible. Today’s unanimous vote demonstrates how serious Congress is about preventing suicide and providing mental health assistance to those who need it.”
The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act would make 9-8-8 the phone number anyone in America could quickly call in a mental health emergency. The easy-to-remember, three-digit number for suicide prevention and mental health support would connect callers with trained counselors to listen and help—making emotional support services for Americans far easier to access than the current system, a patchwork system of 10 digit numbers that are difficult to memorize and different depending on who is calling and where they live.
The subcommittee markup is a key step forward for the bill. It comes less than a month after Moulton teamed up with a constituent who assists the survivors of military loss and suicide to urge Congress to pass the bill and other policies that make it easier for people to get mental health care. The markup comes after a successful Subcommittee hearing on the bill earlier this month. Moulton and Stewart have united several of the nation’s leading mental health organizations behind the bill.
David C. Guth Jr., the CEO of Centerstone, a leading provider of mental health care, said: “Centerstone enthusiastically applauds committee Chairman Doyle and Ranking member Latta, as well Representatives Moulton and Stewart, for their leadership in advancing H.R. 4194 – The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act. Today’s passage of the bill out of subcommittee is a critical step in establishing 9-8-8 as the universal three-digit telephone number for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline, an incredible step forward for the field of mental health. With suicide rates on the rise nationally across multiple demographic groups, it is more important than ever to quickly connect those in crisis with the appropriate resources. Once fully implemented, Centerstone expects 9-8-8 will contribute significantly to increased access to mental health services while lessening the burden currently faced by our nation’s 9-1-1 personnel responding to mental health emergencies.”
John Madigan, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Senior Vice President and Chief Public Policy Officer: “The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention applauds Rep. Moulton for his leadership to designate 988 as the future three-digit number for individuals in suicidal crisis to connect with life-saving resources. A more accessible hotline will encourage help-seeking and connect individuals to the mental health services they need. We urge your colleagues in Congress to make suicide prevention a priority and pass H.R.4194, the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act into law.”
Casey Pick, Senior Fellow for Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people said: "We're grateful for the House Subcommittee advancing legislation to designate a 3-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and especially for the support we heard for specialized services to better serve the unique needs of LGBTQ youth. At The Trevor Project, we hear every day from youth in crisis for who can benefit from this legislation, and 988 will go a long way toward supporting all Americans in need."
Suicide rates in the United States have increased for the 13th straight year. Suicide acutely affects veterans, who are about one and a half times more likely to die from suicide than non-veterans, and Americans in rural communities, where the suicide rate is 25 percent higher and wireless networks that people could use to get help are weaker.
Moulton and Stewart’s bill would also give states the ability to fund and staff mental health emergency call centers. Most existing suicide prevention call centers are currently volunteer-led and funded by non-profits. For example, on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, an influx in calls to a volunteer-run center last year led to some calls going unanswered because of a shortage of volunteers available and trained to answer the phones.
Since the legislation’s introduction in August 2019, 135 members of Congress have co-sponsored the bill. Today’s news is the latest in a series of positive steps forward for the bill. In December, the Senate committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation passed the Senate version of the bill out of committee. The FCC also voted unanimously to move forward with the rulemaking process for the use of 9-8-8 for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline.
Moulton announced the bill at a Samaritans call center in Boston after he decided to speak publicly for the first time about managing Post Traumatic Stress from his experiences in Iraq. In addition to calling for a three-digit hotline, Moulton also presented a plan to make mental health checkups mandatory for service members who saw combat.
The plan, which requires every service member to have an annual mental health checkup and mandates every service member who saw combat to receive a mental health checkup within 21 days of returning home, became law late last year after Moulton added it to the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2020.
Nearly one in five American adults live with a mental-health condition. Nearly half of those afflicted report having an unmet need for services.