Washington, D.C. – Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), and Doug Jones (D-Ala.) introduced the Suicide and Crisis Outreach Prevention Enhancement Act, which would increase funding for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) program from $7.2 million to $20 million per year, provide greater flexibility for participants to raise awareness of the services they offer, and collect vital statistics to help understand and reduce disparities.
“In the conversations I’ve had with people across the state during the pandemic, I’ve heard over and over about the toll this public health and economic crisis has taken on the mental health of Coloradans. Now more than ever it is crucial that we prioritize and invest in mental health care for all Americans while also addressing the racial and socioeconomic disparities in access to mental health care that exist,” said Bennet. “Our new bipartisan legislation will strengthen the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by increasing funding for the program to support individuals in crisis, studying disparities in access to the program, and boosting awareness to ensure those who are looking for help have an easier time finding it.”
“With many people struggling with mental health issues during the pandemic, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is critical for getting them the help they need,” said Cornyn. “This legislation would nearly triple the funding for the Lifeline program, giving Texans and veterans in crisis even more access to this valuable resource.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a tremendous toll on the mental health of Iowans and Americans across the country, leading to a major surge in calls to suicide prevention hotlines and an uptick in the need for mental health services,” said Ernst. “This bipartisan bill will help increase the surge capacity of our nation’s suicide prevention lifeline and mental health crisis centers to ensure Iowans are able to access the support they need during these challenging times.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging time for our nation and has exacerbated mental health issues for many Americans. We need to remind people that no matter how isolating and hard things may seem, they are never without options for help. This bill would help connect folks in need to crisis resources and help them get the care they need,” said Jones.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of state and local crisis centers linked through a 24/7 toll-free number (1-800-273-TALK or 8255) that connects callers throughout the United States to immediate crisis care. Trained counselors assess callers for suicidal risk, provide emotional support and crisis counseling, and offer referrals to behavioral health and emergency services when necessary.
Since 2005, more than 12 million calls have been answered by the Lifeline and its network of crisis centers, with a record 2.2+ million calls in 2018 alone. The NSPL includes veteran-specific services through call routing to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Veterans Crisis Line. The Veterans Crisis Line has served 3.5 million callers since its inception in 2007, including 600,000 veterans and active service members in 2018.
The Lifeline network consists of more than 170 independently operated local and state-funded crisis call centers in 48 states. Callers dial the Lifeline number and are routed to their nearest crisis center based on area code. Ideally, callers are connected with a local counselor in their own state. However, if the local center is unable to answer, the Lifeline reroutes calls to backup centers in their network, both in and out-of-state.
The Lifeline, funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is accessible in over 150 languages and includes chat and TTY services for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Throughout the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, Bennet has continued to fight for expanding access to and increasing funding for mental and behavioral health care in this country. Bennet cosponsored the bipartisan National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which was signed into law on October 17. It designates 9-8-8 as the three-digit number for the NSPL. In June, Bennet and a bipartisan group of colleagues introduced the Home-Based Telemental Health Care Act to establish a grant program for health providers to expand telemental health services for rural communities, specifically to those working in farming, forestry, and fishing industries. In May, Bennet urged the VA to develop and implement comprehensive mental health care plans to ensure veterans’ well-being during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill text is available HERE.