April 27, 2020

Wyden, Merkley Call for Establishing 9-8-8 Suicide Hotline in Next COVID-19 Relief Package

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today urged that the next COVID-19 relief package include bipartisan legislation designating 9-8-8 as the three-digit number for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline.

“The creation of this three-digit dialing code is essential in order to address the growing suicide crisis across the United States,” Wyden and Merkley wrote in a letter with more than 20 colleagues from both parties to congressional leadership. “As our country is facing an unprecedented challenge in responding to COVID-19, this three-digit hotline would play a critical role in saving the lives of many vulnerable Americans who are facing mental health emergencies during this period of isolation and uncertainty.

“Suicide does not discriminate between rural and urban areas or by income, and it causes heartbreak and loss in communities in every single one of our states,” they wrote. “We must ensure that we are doing everything we can to prevent these devastating outcomes from occurring, especially in these trying times as grief and uncertainty encompass our nation.”

The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act designating 9-8-8 as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline would include the Veterans Crisis Line for veteran-specific mental health support. The bill also includes a report to improve support services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) youth and other high-risk populations.  

The statewide “Breaking the Silence” reporting project last year in Oregon found suicide kills more than 800 Oregonians a year and that suicide rates in the state and across the country have steadily increased since 2000.

Amid those deeply troubling statistics about suicide in Oregon and nationwide, Wyden and Merkley have been long-time advocates of setting aside a three-digit number for people facing a mental health crisis and considering suicide. Merkley last week led a bipartisan effort to push Senate leadership to provide $80 million in supplemental funding for the lifeline in order to respond to increased call volume and to expand capacity.

A copy of the April 27 letter signed by 22 other senators is here.