President Trump has signed a bipartisan bill creating a three-digit hotline for mental health emergencies. Mental health advocates say it'll bring mental health crisis response into the 21st century.



Over the weekend, President Trump signed a bill creating a new three-digit suicide prevention hotline. The Federal Communications Commission had set aside 988 for the lifeline. The number will not become active for nearly two years. And as NPR's Rhitu Chatterjee reports, that allows mental health providers time to adapt.

RHITU CHATTERJEE, BYLINE: By July 2022, anyone having thoughts of suicide or experiencing a mental health crisis can call 988 to get help.

BOB GEBBIA: We are thrilled because this is a game-changer.

CHATTERJEE: Bob Gebbia is the CEO of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. He says the existing 10-digit number for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be hard to call in the middle of a crisis.

GEBBIA: So when you're in crisis, you're already emotionally upset and struggling. The hardest thing to do is to find a number that's a 10-digit number and call it.

CHATTERJEE: A three-digit number is easier to remember and dial.

GEBBIA: We know 911. It's ingrained in our heads, right? So I don't have to think about it.

KIMBERLY WILLIAMS: A national three-digit number will make it far easier for millions of Americans to get immediate connection to care.

CHATTERJEE: Kimberly Williams is president and CEO of Vibrant Emotional Health, the organization that runs the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. When someone calls the lifeline now, they're connected to one of 170 local crisis centers around the country. Williams says 988 will likely cause a rise in number of calls to these centers.

WILLIAMS: Under 988, it's, you know, anticipated that far more people are going to be reaching out for help.

CHATTERJEE: But many crisis centers are underfunded and don't have enough staff to handle the existing call volumes. The new law provides for additional funding for these crisis centers to expand their capacity. Lauren Conaboy is with Centerstone, a behavioral health care provider working in several states.

LAUREN CONABOY: This legislation itself gives states the authority to levy fees on wireless bills, similar to how 911 is financed in a lot of states.

CHATTERJEE: These centers have already experienced a significant rise in number of calls during the pandemic. The new law, Conaboy says, will help meet a growing need.

WILLIAMS: So that two years down the road, we're equipped as a nation to provide those emergency services and to make it as easy as possible for someone in that moment of crisis to reach out.

CHATTERJEE: Rhitu Chatterjee, NPR News.

SHAPIRO: And if you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please call 1-800-273-TALK.

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