Suicide prevention experts support new Hotline Improvement Act, cite accessibility needs in rural Tennessee

Brandon Paykamian • Aug 18, 2018 at 8:05 PM

We often call 911 when dealing with a health emergency, but policymakers are now considering creating a new, three-digit number to call during a mental health crisis. 

On Aug. 14, President Donald Trump signed the National Hotline Improvement Act of 2018, which was co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. Marsha Blackburn, R-7th, Phil Roe, R-1st, and Jim Cooper. D-5th.

The law, which had bipartisan support, will require the Federal Communications Commission and Departments of Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs to study the feasibility of designating a three-digit dialing code for national suicide prevention and a mental health crisis hotline system. 

Every day, three people in Tennessee die from suicide, and according to the most recent statistics from 2016, suicides increased in young people ages 10-18. Every year, about 1,000 Tennesseans total die from suicide.

In 2016, that number was 1,110, putting Tennessee 20 percent above the national average for suicide deaths.

In Sullivan County, 33 people died by suicide in 2016. In Washington County, that number was 20. Eleven died by suicide in Carter County, while 12 died in Greene County.

With suicide rates on the rise, Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network Executive Director Scott Ridgway said those working to prevent suicide in Tennessee need all the help they can get in making it easier to direct Tennesseans to mental health services. 

Ridgway said “the ability to have a three-digit number to call for suicide prevention would be extraordinary for those who have and will experience suicide ideations. The ease of access, similar to 911, has been in use in various countries to great success.

“As the number of suicides continues to rise throughout the state, we need to look for ways to help people find resources,” he said. “And this is the first step for the federal government to explore the feasibility of using that three-digit number.” 

TSPN officials say rural areas experience higher rates of suicide compared to urban areas due to lower levels of social integration and availability of mental health services.

While only three people died from suicide in Hancock County in 2016, that was a rate of 45.7 per 100,000 people. 

Roe said numbers such as these are “deeply troubling.” 

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide was the second-leading cause of death for Americans aged 10 to 34 in 2016, and the fourth-leading cause of death for Americans aged 35 to 54 in that same year.

“Data also shows that roughly 20 veterans die by suicide every day. This is deeply troubling, which is why I believe we must use every available resource to ensure that anyone who has suicidal thoughts knows there is hope,” Roe said in an emailed statement to the Press.

For more information on suicide prevention, visit www.tspn.org. If you are in need of help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).   

UPDATE: Blackburn co-sponsored the legislation but did not vote for it. 




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