October 17, 2020

Moulton Bill to Make 988 National Number for Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Hotline Signed into Law

With the president signing his bill today, Moulton has completed two of the three priorities he laid out for breaking the stigmas to seeking mental health care

WASHINGTONToday, the President of the United States signed The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, a bill introduced by Representative Seth Moulton, into law. The bill will unite the nation’s suicide prevention and mental health hotlines under three digits: 9-8-8. Americans with questions or concerns about their mental health or the mental health of a loved one will be able to dial 9-8-8 and get help within the next two years. 

“When your house is on fire, you can get help by calling 9-1-1. A year-and-a-half ago, we set a goal to make it just as easy to get help in a mental health emergency,” Moulton said. “Today we finished the job and made 988 the national number for mental health emergencies” Moulton said. “This is a win for every American who has been affected by a mental illness. It is a national step forward out of the shadows of stigma that prevent too many people from getting help and into a new era when mental health care is easy to get and normal to talk about. I’m so proud of my team and the partners that got this done. This will save tens of thousands of lives every year.”

Moulton was joined in the effort by a group of lawmakers from both parties. His partners in the House were Representatives Chris Stewart (R-UT), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), and Greg Gianforte (R-MT). The Senate companion bill, introduced last October by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Jack Reed (D-RI), was passed in May by voice vote. The FCC also unanimously voted to designate 988 as the national number for mental health emergencies.

Rep. Chris Stewart said: “This is a great day for our nation. Those who find themselves in a mental health crisis will now have the extra support that they need. I’ve met with many across Utah whose loved ones have taken their own life. I’ve heard their stories, I’ve heard their pleas for help, and today, I am proud that we are able to provide a vital resource to those who need it most. This easy-to-remember hotline will save lives and give us additional tools to help reverse the tragic trend of suicide. Every life matters and we can all do our part to prevent suicide by providing love and support to our neighbors who may be struggling.”

Moulton and his team, with their House and Senate partners, built a bipartisan coalition that steered the bill across the finish line after Moulton disclosed he was managing post traumatic stress from his service in the military. At the time he outlined a three-pronged plan to expand access to mental health care and break the stigmas that prevent people from seeking help. 

Last year, Moulton completed the first prong by amending the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019 to include mandatory mental health checkups for service members who saw combat. He expanded the group in this year’s defense bill to include other service members like drone operators and intelligence officials. The final bill is currently being negotiated. Linking the national network of 10-digit suicide prevention and mental health hotlines into an easy to remember number was part two of his plan. Breaking the stigma, and expanding mental health checkups to young people and Americans outside the military is part three. That work will take longer, but Moulton believes making it easier to get help by phone will encourage more people to seek it out.

Moulton’s team has been recognized for their leadership. Earlier this month, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention presented Moulton’s Legislative Assistant, Olivia Hussey, with their Allies in Action Award, for “working tirelessly at all levels of government to improve mental health and reduce suicide in our country.”

The number of Americans reporting mental health concerns has spiked since the coronavirus pandemic locked the country down. From March 1 to April 30, The National Alliance on Mental Illness reported a 65 percent increase in HelpLine calls, callback and emails. According to a report in USA Today, people who called the number in the past “wanted information or resources for a loved one, but now, four times as many people are reaching out about their own needs. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young Americans, and alarmingly, one in four young Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 have experienced suicidal thoughts since the pandemic began. Last year, suicide killed 48,344 Americans. 

Moulton and the lawmakers he partnered with secured the backing of the nation’s leading mental health care advocates. Earlier this year, for example, Moulton brought Kim Burditt, senior manager of programs and logistics for suicide prevention at the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, as his guest for the State of the Union. TAPS supports those grieving the loss of a loved one whose life included military service. Burditt, of Wakefield, lost her brother to suicide. 

Advocates for the legislation celebrated the bill signing:

Sam Brinton, Vice President of Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project said: "This law 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. 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 twelve months,” they said. “More than half of transgender and non-binary 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,”

Robert Gebbia, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention CEO said: “The designation of the 9-8-8 hotline number will make life-saving suicide prevention resources more accessible for people in emotional distress.  The historic passage of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act into law will bring our national crisis response system into the 21stcentury and we applaud Congressman Moulton’s leadership on this legislation.”

David C. Guth, Jr., Chief Executive Officer of Centerstone said: “Centerstone applauds today’s signing to move a 3-digit dialing code, 9-8-8, closer to a national service reality. The legislation will enable states to provide resources to the mental health crisis line, as well as establish specialized services for vulnerable populations, such as LGBTQ youth, minorities, veterans and those in rural areas.  As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to increase levels of anxiety and depression nationwide, today’s announcement will give our nation much needed tools in the long-haul response to provide access and resources to combat the growing mental health crisis.  We applaud Senate and House leadership for this tremendous bipartisan effort.”

Chuck Ingoglia, President and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health said: “Today’s signing of The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act represents the single-most important development to reduce suicide in America to date. For the first time, a dedicated three-digit-number will now be available for those experiencing a mental health crisis, making it easier than ever for millions of Americans to access critical resources and receive life saving help. This is especially important in the wake of increased isolation, fear, grief, and substance use due to COVID-19. We appreciate the tireless work done to make this hotline a reality and look forward to continue working with lawmakers and our members to not only ensure the promise of 9-8-8, but to keep improving access to crisis services and high quality care.”

Daniel H. Gillison, Jr., CEO of NAMI said: “The need for 9-8-8 is urgent. Without appropriate care, people with mental illness end up on our streets, in jails and in emergency departments—and dying in tragic encounters with law enforcement. We are making progress toward ensuring people in crisis get help, not handcuffs. We are grateful to Representatives Moulton and Stewart for moving this legislation forward.”

In August 2019, the FCC issued a report requested by Congress that recommended the adoption of 9-8-8 as the national suicide prevention hotline, Rep. Moulton, along with his colleague Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) introduced the House version of the bill. In an op-ed about the legislation, the pair argued that increasing national suicide rates, particularly among veterans, called for substantive change. 

In the year since, Rep. Moulton has tirelessly pushed for the bill to become law. Last December, the FCC unanimously approved 9-8-8, just a day after the Senate’s Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee approved the Senate’s version of Moulton’s legislation. In July, the FCC took another step forward to officially designate the number as the national number for mental health emergencies.

In May, Rep. Moulton secured the language of the bill, The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, into the House-passed Heroes Actp>

The FCC set a national deadline of July 2022 for full implementation though the number could be ready sooner in many locations. Until the three-digit system is fully operational, please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) if you or a loved one is experiencing a mental health emergency.


PRESS: 988 will be implemented as the new nationwide number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline before or by July 2022. In the meantime please continue to share 1-800-273-TALK (8255) with anyone wishing to connect to the Lifeline until 988 is active.

Advocate Sam Brinton uses the pronouns they and them.